I hear the term "lean prose" used a lot to describe writing, in particular crime fiction, and I was just wondering what everyone thinks the definition of "lean prose" is. I'm curious if we're all on the same page or do we have differing ideas of it.
For me, lean prose indicates simple writing, simple in that it doesn't use a lot of description, just enough words to get the point across. But then, it also seems that lean prose refers to a specific lack of description. I mean, if lean prose is just what's necessary and nothing else, then William Faulkner could be described as having lean prose. His syntax is complex, he uses a lot of description, but none of it is frivolous. It's all there to either enhance mood, to control the flow of the story, for symbolism, etc. But I don't think many people would describe William Faulkner's writing as "lean prose".
So what about Hemingway? I hear lean prose and Hemingway thrown together a lot, but Hemingway isn't much different than Faulkner. The styles are different, but both use complex syntax. Hemingway's diction is a bit simpler than Faulkner's, but then they also lived in different regions of the United States, so that's going to affect diction somewhat. And Hemingway uses a lot of description. In fact, the scenery is usually a key symbol in the story. You have to read between the lines to get Hemingway, more so than with Faulkner (whom you have to read twice or three times to get, ha ha) .
So how does Hemingway have lean prose? His sentences have a lot of depth, 10% on the surface and 90% below the surface, as Hemingway himself has described it. So is lean prose just what's necessary, i.e. no "purple prose", or does leans prose refer to a lack of description, a stripping down of sorts. The latter is the impression I get.
What do you all think?