Apr 17, 2012

P is for: Purple prose

 His smile was a ghastly grimace. As wretched tears rolled down her trembling cheeks, she wondered if she'd ever see the light of day again. The knife blade was only inches from her pearly white throat. He laughed a maniacal laugh, his teeth tiny points of malice.

Oy. That was disturbingly easy to write. Those sentences are littered with adjectives/adverbs that are another form of telling. We get carried away by our own awesomeness, by the idea we can paint a picture with words instead of what isn't said. Let me say that again: what ISN'T said. The most effective writing is one that gives the reader enough info to populate his/her own imagination. It's a fine line and one that can years to perfect.
 Let's see if I can demo this right off the cuff:
He grimaced so she saw his pointed teeth. Tears snaked down her cheeks, hot trails of fear fueled by the knife at her neck.

Far fewer words, yet a much bigger impace on the reader. Or so I hope. You'll have to tell ME which is better. (This is a subjective business, no?)

Now you try. :)


Lynn Proctor said...

so agree--wonderful points

Carrie-Anne said...

The discontinued original first draft of my contemporary historical Bildungsroman was littered with purple prose. I was so shocked and horrified when the long-lost file was miraculously resurrected last spring. It was like a Grimm's fairytale on acid, with so many depressing, graphic, over the top descriptions of these people's poverty. No wonder I always had unexplained depressing feelings when I thought about that original draft, because I must've subconsciously remembered how much purple prose I'd used to describe that depressing tenement.

Carrie-Anne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Deana said...

I wish I was better at that. It is definitely something that takes years to get a grip on:)

Tobi Summers said...

While I agree that the first paragraph is overkill and the second is tighter, I don't necessarily think the second is better. They don't convey the same message. Yes, I get the point with the second one, but there's more suspense building in the first. Not that I think the first one is better either. I think it kind of depends on the mood of the piece and whether you're looking to speed up the action or slow it down a little, and other things like that.