Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Summer Flowers and Purple Prose

June is right around the corner. Everyday new flowers blossom.

Flowers have a special sweet scent. An aura calling our senses to experience them. 

What is the first thing that caught your eye in the photo to the left? The purple flowers, right? The vibrant color leaps from this nature scene, enticing us to find this place, hike to the flowers, and drink in the scent.

Notice the scene is not consumed by the lavender? It is, however, delicately balanced, placed there by the Great Artist/Gardner/Creator as a splash of goodness.

We could say God has used his creation to show us how to refine our writing skills. Today's lesson: Purple Prose

What is purple prose?

Simple definition: Purple prose is exaggerated writing. 

I'm going to step out on a limb (please don't push me off). Sometimes purple prose is good.

Sometimes not. I happen to enjoy a good purple passage now and then. To be fair to the masses reading this post, I will present what is considered wrong with purple prose--AND add spices of it's goodness along the way. [whimsical grin]

Generally speaking, purple prose is elongated, descriptive passages laced with what some writers might consider creative words, but in fact are repetitive synonyms and complicated vocabulary words haphazardly strung together to show off the intelligence of the author. Fifty to ninety percent of the words used in these sentences/passages, however, can be deleted and still maintain the integrity of the passage.

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The Urban Dictionary provides this example of purple prose: by dazzlemethis August 11, 2009

normal writing: 
she lay on her bed dreaming.

purple prose: 
she lay upon her silken sheets in her ornately embellished robes of satin, her chest ascending and descending easily with every passing second, deep inside the caverns of her subconscious mind

Red flags should go off immediately for this purple prose example. POV issues!!! But that is another post for another day. Still, the example brings one issue into the light. The extra words didn't reveal anything else other than "she" must be rich. 

Okay, Mary hopping in with the sprinkle of good. When I read the example of Doc from Back to the Future I could see the extraneous point I discussed above...but still loved his lines. I even quote his hilarious lines:

Doc: Look, there's a rythmic, ceremonial ritual coming up!
Marty: Of course! The "Enchantment under the Sea" dance!

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Confession: I enjoy the show The Voice. I actually jot down some of the advice given to the competitors and  use nuggets in writing. Adam Levine stopped one of his singers during a practice session and said, "You don't need the extra attitude that is there. I just think there are certain moments that can be a little bit more simpler, you know? You really have the power to deliver a vocal. You don't need that extra sauce kind of stuff. Don't over sing."  

Even though he didn't say it, he was talking about a singing version of purple prose. 

Mary hopping in again with another sprinkle of good: I find Stefanie Arr's words helpful: "one person’s purple prose may be another person’s vivid description. Unfortunately (or, fortunately, depending on who you are), this is largely a judgment call. From Purple Prose: What It is and How to Avoid it, 12/15/2011

Still, we want to be great writers. 
Writers who can compose fantastic descriptions that do not go over the top. 
The perfect blend between tight writing and 3-D sensory description.

How can we do this?

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1. Use words that reflect your voice. Would you really say those words found in the thesaurus when you searched there the last time? I searched for purple and then prose and found violaceous for purple and shibboleth for prose. I don't think I'll be using those synonyms!  Sure you know the suggested synonyms found in resources, or most of them. Kinda. Use the thesaurus with caution choosing only the best word that reflects your voice.

2. Use description to paint senses as needed. Trust the reader's mind to fill in and tailor fit the painting for their journey through the story. We really don't need to show everything. Just enough to do the job.

3. Use exclamation points, ellipsis, and other purple punctuation sparingly. Let strong writing communicate surprise, delight, horror, and slow, deliberate thinking. Using these tools too often are actually a form of telling, not showing.

4. Examine the reason why the flowery description with big words would fit. Does the sentence sound really good to you? Maybe make you feel like patting yourself on the back and say, "Wow, I AM a great writer." Perhaps the sentence/paragraph has upstaged the rest of the chapter. Whoa! Time for that red flag, again. Successful writers never write to boast or let a renegade sentence steal the show. They write so others can read. 

On the other hand, (yes, this is another Mary good purple prose sprinkling), purple prose is a fantastic tool for humor, exaggeration, intended misinterpretation, etc. Go ahead and laugh at the sentence your wrote. Read it to your friends and family. Get them on board. Now we're talking marketing. Whoops. Something shiny.

5. Most-BUT NOT ALL- adverbs could be weeded out. An adverb usually, (keyword: usually) is a sign of a weak verb. Give that verb a vitamin B shot and let it stand on its own. For example: instead of saying Jane searched wildly, try Jane rummaged.  Remember: adverbs are real words and may be used. Treat adverbs like you would a lemon in a recipe. Sparingly. For Zest.

It's easy to find purple prose in other writer's manuscripts. Not so much in our own. Yet, amazing enough, if we're told to cut a certain amount of words in order to submit our work guest which ones will be sliced? Have you noticed?

Here is your challenge: You have been told by an editor to slice one hundred words from chapter one. Highlight the words you would choose to cut. Are these sentences/words/paragraphs actually purple prose?

You may not have time to do this challenge right now. Try to put it on your schedule and share with me next time.

In the meantime, add depth to one of these sentences without using purple prose: (you can turn the sentence into a short para if needed)

1. The ship sank.
2. Jeff choked.
3. She hated red.

I'm looking forward to your input!


This blog post is by Mary Vee

Mary has moved to Michigan with her husband, closer to her three college kids. She misses the mountains of Montana, but loves seeing family more often. She writes contemporary and romance Christian fiction, is honing marketing and writing skills, and loves to pen missionary and Bible adventure stories on her ministry blog, God Loves Kids.

Visit Mary at her website and her ministry blog to families: God Loves Kids. Or chat on Facebook or Twitter


Karen Campbell Prough said...

She hated red. The vivid flame-colored material flashed its presence between the heavy limbs of the thick forest.She saw it before she heard the muted sound of low voices and the rustle of boots pressing aside the undergrowth. Crimson spots, dotting the advance of the ememy, urged her to run. The enemy had found the fort.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Great paragraph, Karen!
I might make just one suggestion, having both vivid and flame-colored seems repetitive. I'd suggest choosing only one. I sure loved the rest of the para. Thanks for participating!

Amy Leigh Simpson said...

Lots of good stuff here, Mare! Love the examples!

Mary Vee Writer said...

Thanks, Aimes. :)

H.R. Sinclair said...

I have read some good purply prose too. I like you example too.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Aww, thanks for your support, Southpaw...I wondered if I stood alone :)