I have a tendency to wax eloquent in my narration, which has garnished me with criticism of having “purple prose”. I fully understand what this is, but I do not understand why it is treated with such disdain. I think back to my favorite literature that has led me to this desire I have to write, and I am inundated with examples of various literary devices therein. More specifically, whenever I use figurative or descriptive language, it appears that some consider it as bile. Is there no part in this time and place for someone to write like a Wells, a Golding, a Herbert, or even a McCarthy? I do not wish to compare myself to these great writers, but is it improper for me to strive for such excellence? Or is my desire to do so, merely a trek to an allusive Nirvana that has no place in our present literary world?
[This message has been edited by philocinemas (edited November 09, 2008).]
I think it's out of place to criticize "style" except where I think passages of style obscure what the writer is trying to say or what the reader can understand. Even then, I hesitate to do so.
Personally I prefer very understated prose, but there absolutely is room for difficult writing in modern literature.
The difficulty comes in making sure that the "purple" prose is adding to, not obscuring, the story. There's also the problem of markets and reader expectations. I love the rhythms of, say, Cormac McCarthy's prose, even in his most difficult works, but I probably wouldn't tolerate it in a short story; there's simply not enough time to get used to it and my commitment isn't there. Speculative fiction does demand that the focus of the story is upon the idea and thick prose can lead to the underdevelopment of an idea.
I still think the rule of making sure that you use the minimum amount of words to say what you have to say stands for "purple prose".
If you look at those who do difficult writing well, even the most convoluted passages would be difficult to write any other way. They're not "purple", they're evocative.
[This message has been edited by Nick T (edited November 09, 2008).]
That said if you write prose that is poetic, clear and not overly garnished I may find myself enjoying it. However, to sustain that for a short story, let alone a novel, I doubt would be feasible or marketable.
When I say 'feasible', I mean I doubt I would continue to enjoy it for that length of time. I prefer the author to remain in the background while my imagination adds the poetry.
By all means write it, if that is what you like. Personally, I write actual poetry to get it out of my system. Then I write clear (I hope) and simple (I hope) prose.
There's purple prose, and then there's stylistic writing. Purple prose is marked with big, obscure words and complicated sentence structure as if that in itself will make it sound more artistic. It marks you as an amateur because it's clumsily done. It's trying to complicate for the sake of complicating. Using big fancy words and old fashioned terms simply for their own sake, rather than for any well crafted purpose or effect.
Real artistry comes from understanding how words are used, and reaching for the most accurate and precise way of saying what you intend to say. Style comes from knowing how to use the words to convey a certain mood and atmosphere, or evoke a feeling with your words and sentences.
It's really hard to say whether you should or shouldn't use what you are calling "purple prose". Remember, one man's junk is another man's treasure. Like most things in writing, the ultimate goal is to make the writing disappear. If a story is good enough, that's exactly what happens and the prose doesn't matter a bit. However, if the prose is getting in the way of the story, then it isn't really good prose for the story. It might also be true that most readers of the genre targeted don't really want literary type prose, as suggested earlier.
To be honest, I think it's difficult for any of us to give good advice without seeing a sample of your work. Even then, a small snippet (13 lines) might not be enough because it's taken out of context, but it might be worth posting something so we have more to go on.
I appreciate all the response no matter which way it is directed. I simply would like to understand why it is disliked so much. Yes, I purposely overwrote my inquiry to get across my point. However, I could have just as easily posted a paragraph from Lord of the Flies or from Dickens, or Wells, or Poe. My writing does not compare to these, but does everyone dislike these for their flowing prose? Dune, which I think is one of the best sci-fi novels ever, is full of it. That was probably the wrong choice of words, but you hopefully understand what I mean. There are recent examples as well, and I will try to gather a list if you question it.
I do not know if this is the right forum to present this, but I suppose KDW can just edit me if she determines it is not. Here are 13 of the lines in question:
She fumbled down two flights of steps to get to the bottom floor and plunged out into the cold city night. The street was desolate, and as she fled, the drooping lampposts seemed to languish in her despair. The chilling, unforgiving wind whispered accusations in her ears. Fifteen minutes felt like an hour, but Meg found herself drawn back to the place where her life had ended – the park where, Ben, her five-year-old son had played that last time. She followed his steps as if they were her own, up and down the slide, over to the table to get the ball, and then out into the street. She bent down and hugged the cold black asphalt. It was a gesture of forfeit and of desire to embrace something other than the emptiness time had left her.
I don't perceive those thirteen lines as particularly purple, nor mellifuous, per se. Purple prose is ornate, flowery, or extravagant diction and syntax and sometimes intricate wordplay that calls attention to the prose. In the example passage, there is analogous existential comparision that's figurative in meaning, though some of the diction is imprecise in ways that makes the meaning vague and causes reading disruptions. "Fumbled," "drooping," and "languish" don't provide as precise a meaning in the context as other word choices might.
Imprecision in figurative meaning is probably the culprit that's drawn attention. In my experience, if figurative meaning isn't absolutely precise, it's off-putting.
"Fumbled" suggests dropping or juggling. Though earlier era usage of fumble meant handle clumsily or aimlessly, modern idiomatic usages associate fumbling with ball play.
"Drooping" suggests a hanging or inclined object, sinking gradually, depression and weakness, yet doesn't clearly show the physical orientation of the lampposts. It suggests they're leaning or hanging down and about to collapse.
"Languish" suggests weak or feeble, dispirited, an expression of grief or emotion appealing for sympathy. In my mind, a lamppost can't represent a dispirited state or an appeal for sympathy. The lamp lights might, but the lamppost is to my mind a rigid, structure.
The latter two terms are perhaps suitable for animate things, living objects. Whereas inanimate objects take on animacy in figurative contexts, it's difficult to perceive lampposts as drooping and in a state of languish when that goes contrary to the mute, dutiful, vigilant quality of animacy that lampposts personify. I can't perceive lampposts as dispirited or depressed; indifferent, yes. They light up the darkness regardless of their mood.
Consider whether a perfume can be arrogant, a cigar sweetly scented, a slice of stale white bread nervy and bold.
The lampposts are cane-shaped - maybe I should use more of a physical description, instead of an emotional one, or leave it out all together. I was trying to express how she was seeing the world in her distraught emotional state.
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Consider Meg's emotional state a two-way interaction with her meaning space. She's projecting--or the narrator is in third-person close transfered first person--her emotional state onto the objects around her, and they are reflecting her emotional state.
An aimless person might not fumble down stairs in a state of tragic melacholy. The soft consonant followed by a hard consonant of the word fumble, though, is a robust sounding verb. Stumbled isn't much clearer emotionally than fumbled. Staggered or lurched or tottered or reeled gets closer to what I think the intent is.
And rather than the lampposts drooping and in a state of languish, yes, a physical description might be best. A candy cane-shape suggests a Christmassy scene. The lamplights might be the objects Meg emotionally projects onto. Without knowing the time of the story's milieu, I'll project from today's commonplace metal halide lamps. Mercury vapor's funereal blue or sodium vapor's garrish orange offer emotional context. They also flicker and falter periodically.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited November 10, 2008).]
phil, distinguish "good" from "saleable" in your mind. Your purple prose may well be good, but it may not be saleable. How you revise in response to the criticism that your writing is "purple" ought to depend on how you prioritize those two independent variables.
[This message has been edited by J (edited November 10, 2008).]
I'd have to caution you not to allow your prose get in the way of your story. Yes, many authors use florid prose to good affect. I would suggest that they don't allow it to get in the way of the story.
From your sample, here is my reaction as a reader: "drooping lampposts"... that doesn't conjure up a good description of a shape to me. To me, it conveys a texture, like wax or taffy candy, that is somewhat fluid and changing. It became a speedbump in my reading because I stopped and thought "What? This isn't a good metaphor because lampposts are solid, they don't droop!" The same with the expression: "She bent down and hugged the cold black asphalt." My visual image of bending down is to bend at the waist. Yet if she's going to hug the asphalt, wouldn't she have to lay down? Again, the words you selected are creating a barrier to my visualizing the scene, not an enhancement.
I think that's why you are getting criticism of being too descriptive. It's not that florid prose is bad in general, it's that you are not being selective enough as to when, and to what, you apply it.
One of the things I've learned that good prose gives the reader the tools to imagine the writer's world. It's OK to offer vivid description up to a certain point, then allow your reader to fill in some of the details in their mind. In essense, a good world builder trusts once you've put some key description in place, that the investment pays off as you go along and you can allow the reader to draw on that so you don't need to overdescribe every single scene.
I think if you go back and re-evaluate the works of the authors you cite, you'll find a lot of that. Key description in a few places, then the author relies on the reader's imagination to conjure up the details. As an example, Herbert only describes the scent of "spice" once (maybe twice), as I recall in Dune. Yet the inference to the scent permeates the book. After the initial description, a brief mention of it is all he needs to do to remind the reader of this key element in his world.
Like good acting, good writing shouldn't over-dramatize the little stuff. Save the dramatic stuff for the big scenes that need it most.
Extrinsic - In this scene, Meg is very upset and is fleeing, practically falling down the steps to get away. "Stumble" seems the closest verb expressing it, but I wanted to convey a swift and reckless descent, suggesting an abandonment of concern for personal safety. I like the suggestions for the lamposts. Thank you.
However, none of this seems to answer my initial question. What I am interpreting as "purple prose" is lavish description and ornate language. Some seem to consider figurative language as this, where others seem to consider overly detailed description or unusual language use or structure as a shade of purple. Is it the same as "overwritten"?
I will try and do a search on "purple prose" here and see what it reveals, but my initial perception is that everyone's perception is slightly different on this matter.
I have a considerable library of classic literature, if neither my initial inquiry nor my 13 lines are "purple", then maybe someone can reference something I might have - i.e. Lord of the Flies, Moby Dick, Dune, 1984, Dickens, Wells, Doyle, etc. I have the complete works of Poe; surely that has purple prose. If someone could give me a definitive example and then disect what is undesireable about it, I could more easily understand.
I continue to hear that it is a matter of the author's intrusion into the story. What was the turning point for this view? Hemmingway? I see the author's style in everything I read. If the author simply stated - Meg went quickly down the stairs and walked out into the street. The wind was cold, and she was very upset. She ran to the park and thought about her son's death. She collapsed onto the road where he was killed. - there is still style. I would think it was bland and poorly written, but style nonetheless. I can make a story that is all dialogue, but the "how to's" suggest writing with as much narration as possible and only relying on dialogue where one must. Then show; don't tell. Therefore I feel pigeonholed into writing bland narration that conveys that Meg goes down some steps, runs through the streets, and later talks to express her emotions. Arrgh! - (that's not my pirate voice)
Wikipedia has the topic "Purple Prose" that answers some of the questions asked. Yes, Hemingway turned the tide in the modern era, but, according to the Wikipedia article, the origins of the term date to circa 65-8 BCE. Of note, the article also references several of the authors that have been referenced upthread.
[This message has been edited by extrinsic (edited November 10, 2008).]
I think you've answered your own question with your last post. What is being referred to by your critiques as "Purple Prose" isn't really. I think most of your crits are confusing the term "Purple Prose" with what's really here.
What I get from your posting is many of the same things Elan has said. It's not the prose that's the problem, it's how the describing words are used, and how they confuse and slow down the reader. As I said earlier, the purpose to any writing is to make the words disappear and let the story take over. Great prose helps that along, while confusing prose gets in the way of getting the reader there. I think that some rewording of this short snippet would take care of all of that. Remember, things that don't fit will trip up a reader, and if a story tries too hard to slam description and eloquence down a reader's throat, they'll notice.
My best suggestion is not to worry so much on individual words, and write your first draft however it comes out. If the writing is being forced, then likely it is being "overwritten". Then adjust here and there for things like the lamppost description.
No matter what, if your style meshes with the authors you mentioned in your original post, then by all means strive to do what they do. Just realize though, that if you are truly developing a style of your own, sooner or later you'll have to write like yourself, and no one else. And with that, who's to say that it won't be as good, or better even, and just as well received, as those same literary greats.
Thank you, extrinsic and Iuapc, and all you others. I think I'm finally getting it. I believe part of my problem is that I am getting my mental image of the scene in the way of my writing. What I mean by this is that I have a picture in my mind, and in trying to find the simplest way to express the emotion and description of it, I am being lazy in my precise wording.
Meg went quickly down the stairs and walked out into the street. The wind was cold, and she was very upset. She ran to the park and thought about her son's death. She collapsed onto the road where he was killed.
The above is not good prose and neither is 'the opposite' of purple prose as you suggest.
Your example contains adverbs and is full of telling. It is neither descriptive nor evocative.
I am going to split 'purple prose' in two.
1) Flowery prose 2) True Purple prose.
People trying to emulate the writers of old may attempt to achieve 1 but often fail and only manage 2.
Writing can be descriptive and evocative and be neither of the above. In fact, I would go so far as to say that both of the above are less likely to transport a reader to the place you want to take them than simple, clear prose.
Of course we are talking about extremes. Writers usually sit somewhere in between the two and one paragraph/sentence may be nearer to one extreme (describing a series of dunes may bring out a touch of the poet) and the next may not.
Yes, Skadder, I understand what you are saying. The example you quoted was purposely bad, but I only used two adverbs. I went back and looked at my original "purple" example and I did not use a single adverb in that.
None of that matters to me, per se. What does matter is how to express this passage without saying - Meg did this and Meg did that. I want to convey the emotion without having to say - Meg thought this and Meg thought that. I want it to be real in every way, and yet the world is turning and changing and the ink and paper is stationary (that pun is for spitting on my purple prose). But seriously, what I'm trying to do is somehow infuse life into my writing. I'm just looking for ways to do that.
Yeah I get that bit, about trying to infuse life. But to me purple or flowery prose is like classical-style paintings. High on detail--low on realism. The people in the paintings (obviously not all of them!) look posed.
Simple prose is more like impressionism. A touch here, a touch there, and your mind fills in the blank. Too me, the picture created seems more real as it contains the qualities of a glance--the blurred image, the use of your mind to invent details left out. It is far more inclusive for the reader than a writer who supplies everything.
You don't need to say Meg did this, Meg did that, meg thought this, Meg thought that. You can evoke her state of mind by what she sees-- a wisps of fog drifting in the night air like long-forgotten ghosts; Empty derelict houses, abandoned cars, dead leaves, dark shadows and broken glass. She can wipe her tears away, see a forgotten child's toy in the gutter amid rotting twigs. The reader will pick up the imagery--it doesn't need to be overdone with flowery prose. It can be harsh yet simple--the way she feels it--like a knife being twisted in her heart. Or it can be soft and dark like someone drowning in grief and not caring--relishing the death they walk towards.
If you keep the feeling you want to achieve in your min as you write, then the words will come out right, provide you avoid flowery embellishments and lots of he did this, he did that.
Is there no non-flowery author you like? None that have moved you?
philocinemas, I think the frustration you are describing is what every writer goes through before they have found their own "voice" and style. Every writer has them, and they are as unique as the individual. Many author "voices" are similar, but still vary from author to author, and what is really important is to be confident with your own writing. That takes time and a lot of writing before it becomes natural.
There are three basic learning steps I think all writers go through. The first is learning the English mechanics of writing. These are things like grammar, spelling, and punctuation. While it would be nice if the school system did a better job teaching that, what we get in schools often falls short of what we need to be successful as good fiction writers.
The second step is learning the story mechanics. These are things like character, plot, and setting. It also includes knowing when to "tell" instead of "show". I know, the opposite is what is pushed on beginning authors, but at some point, believe it or not, the opposite can also become true. At that point, stories ramble on with showing when the reader could care less, and more should be told. Orson Scott Card explains this better than I ever could in his books on writing, so I'll direct any questions there.
The final step is the hardest, and that's where I think you are now. Once all the mechanical things are figured out, its time to figure out what makes you different and unique from other authors. This is your "voice" and "style" and once you find it, I think you'll become confident enough not to worry about things like comments on "Purple Prose".
I know that I struggled for almost a year trying to figure out what I felt comfortable and confident with once I had passed through the first couple of steps. Now I write effortlessly, not having to think through my writing much at all, and I don't have to edit it much afterward either. The only things I really struggle with now are things that never go away like the specifics in each individual story.
The main point is that you just have to keep writing and pushing through. Sometimes you have to ignore comments that you don't agree with, even from people you respect. While that might seem hard to do, any author who is confident and has found their own "voice" will tell you it really isn't that hard. If you're not there yet, don't worry. Just keep writing and sooner or later it'll arrive.
May I first state that not all of my narration is like this. This was my longest example in my current story. Most of the time it is only a sentence or two every couple of pages.
Skadder, yes there are authors that I like that do not write in this style; Asimov, OSC and Michael Chabon all come to mind. However, I can't quite pinpoint Chabon's style - he varies. I like Tolkien who does the exact opposite - his narration was fairly straightforward and two the point and made the dialogue ornate at times.
Iuapc - yes, I am trying to find my style. I feel that I am fairly close to arriving. I had not written anything for many years (about 20) that had been read by others. I found this workshop oddly by fluke and decided to start writing to be read again. I have learned a great deal regarding style and presentation and I am still learning. This is why I am still a little unsure of myself. Most of what I have written has been received well enough, but these little comments about my writing being a little "purple" keep popping up. I really just wanted to know how big of an issue this was. Would it stop me from being published?
I am a perfectionist, and I very seldom have so much as a misplaced comma - at least not in a finished piece. I might occasionally have a mispelled word that Word doesn't catch, but rarely. I debate over whether to use "of" or "from" in sentences and go back and change them several times before continuing. This issue with the purpleness of my prose is making me second guess myself. The metaphors come about quite naturally for me (somewhat like puns and multiple meanings do), and now I am worrying whenever they arise.
quote:Meg went quickly down the stairs and walked out into the street. The wind was cold, and she was very upset. She ran to the park and thought about her son's death. She collapsed onto the road where he was killed.
You know, it might be an interesting writing challenge to take those sentences and ask people to use their own style on them. They would not necessarily rewrite the exact sentences, but try to convey the information in their own sentences (and keep it to the 13-line limit, of course). I think I'd insert the words "near there" after "death," though, because that is part of the information that would need to be included.
Great challenge, Kathleen! I'll take a crack. I'm eager to see all the different approaches.
The stairwell walls pressed in close around her. Meg fled downwards and threw herself against the door. She drew a deep breath as she stumbled into the street, but gagged on the grit and the fumes. The outlines of buildings loomed in the dark, indistinct and threatening. Meg fled again. She ran, heedless of direction, slowing only when she realized where she was heading. There.
The tall slide was barely visible in the misty dark. There. Ben had climbed all the way up, then come down, headfirst. The picnic table was next, its cracked yellow paint sinister in the dusk. There. Ben had crawled under it. It wasn't far to the street. There. In the lonely halo of light from a streetlamp, where the ball had rolled. The wet asphalt pressed cold through the knees of Meg's pants. There. Where their lives had ended.
[This message has been edited by J (edited November 10, 2008).]
Well, I'm still looking for my voice. The following feels right to me right now, if that helps.
Meg ignored the speed with which each step vanished from view. Once on the ground floor, she thrust herself into the street, dark and mottled under tears falling behind as she sprinted to the park, concealed by black foliage shifting from a chill breeze that rose with the night.
She saw the road, the patch of hell holding onto the memory of a last moment too precious for release. She threw herself to the biting asphalt with a silent scream. Take mine instead! But the road would not trade her final breath for her five-year-old son's. She was alone in bargaining and far too late.
Meg's hair tore at her while she ran down the steps. Down, down. She ran as fast as she could, reaching the street, gasping in the cold dawn. Her tears blinded her, but she kept going. In her head a slow-motion movie, stuck on repeat, of the accident. The accident - as if you could even call it that. A cry strangled in her throat as she screamed obscenities at the sky. She didn't notice that she had fallen to her knees, that the people on their way to work had stopped to stare, that her coat was in an icy puddle. She screamed at the sky, at the road, at the huge oak that had obscured the traffic from view, the traffic that had killed him. Him. Her son. Her son. She screamed long after they came to get her. Long after her voice gave out and the only sounds she made were croaks and whimpers. Long after they gave her fluids and medicine through an IV full of ice and fire. Long after she stopped feeling, still she screamed.
Meg slipped down the last few steps in her haste to get out the house. The freezing night air made her pause for a moment in the doorway. Everything was silent. Wisps of fog drifted across the damp, empty streets like itinerant ghosts of the night. She pulled her collar up, wiped her wet eyes on her sleeve and began walking. Her footsteps echoed off the darkened houses and the empty shops. She let her feet decide, let them choose the route and they took her straight there---to the park. There was nothing inside her--just numbness. Ben played there, on the swings. She walked to the road--nothing was left to mark the accident. Something dark caught her eye; the black maw of the storm drain nestling at the kerb's edge. "No-" She jammed a fist in her mouth as she saw again the torrent of red blood it drank that day. Ben's blood. Her strength fled her
[This message has been edited by skadder (edited November 11, 2008).]
Meg waited until she was sure David was asleep before creeping out of the apartment. She closed the door softly behind her and then ran pel-mel down the steps. The icy wind that lifted her hair did nothing to soothe the painful burning in her heart. The everyday things she passed on the street seemed surreal and unfamiliar in the low, guttering light of the lamppost, and she traced the path to the park by instinct. The first tear ran down her cheek when she saw the playground. She ran her hand down the freezing slide, and took her shoes off to feel the sand between her toes. She was sobbing now, and she moved mechanically to the spot where her son had been killed and collapsed on the asphalt, praying that a car would come by and not notice her until it was too late.
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I've noticed something that I think is rather interesting about these rewrites, though, and I wonder if it isn't part of the problem with the basic set of sentences: no "trigger" is given for Meg doing what she does, and it isn't clear how long it's been since her son's death.
Surely something must have happened out of the ordinary to send her down the stairs, out the door, and back to the scene, and I found myself wondering what that could have been.
Meg looked down the narrow stairs. What if her foot slipped and she tumbled down? Death seemed a relief, but she couldn’t do it. If someone else pushed her though, she would have been grateful. Her feet slipped in her hurry but she didn’t fall. She opened the door. The icy wind raised goose bumps on her bare arms and lifted the hair from her neck. She crossed the street to the park. It was dark and empty. She was deadened to the once sharp pains of seeing the slides he had played on. Her feet faltered before the sidewalk. It had been here. Her legs gave out and she knelt. Her hands stopped her head from hitting the pavement. She rested her forehead on the street and prayed a car would hit her too. Posts: 968 | Registered: Jul 2008
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- Sorry, I had to step out last night. This scene happens shortly after my original 13 lines in Short Stories - that should give an indication as of what the trigger was (I've made a few minor changes since then).
I liked most of what was written; there were unique points to each person's take. However, what I found was that a few wrote very similar in style to my own.
Question: Looking at what I originally wrote and cleaning up a few inconsistencies, would you consider my writing "purple"? If so, what makes it different from some of the others?
She stumbled down two flights of steps to get to the bottom floor and plunged out into the cold city night. The street was desolate, and as she fled, the curving lampposts flickered, seeming to languish in her despair. The chilling, unforgiving wind whispered accusations in her ears. Fifteen minutes felt like an hour, but Meg found herself drawn back to the place where her life had ended – the park where, Ben, her five-year-old son had played that last time. She followed his steps as if they were her own, up and down the slide, over to the table to get the ball, and then out into the street. She prostrated herself and hugged the cold black asphalt. It was a gesture of forfeit and of desire to embrace something other than the emptiness time had left her.
I wouldn't call this prose purple, the only stumbling blocks I had on the original were: "drooping", because it conflicted with the solidity of a lamppost. and "hugging" because when I think "hugging" I imagine wrapping arms around something, and so trying to picture wrapping arms around a roadway made me stumble.
To me, a level of metaphorical description is fine, as long as it fits the protagonist and the story. I like to see the story through the protagonist's eyes using the filter of the narration. If the narration spends a long time describing a scene, then the protag should have a reason to be examining the scene in such detail. A person visiting a childhood home for the first time in 20 years is going to describe in more detail than the home they live in every day, for instance. As well as the length of the description, what is described should also be filtered through the narrator. In your example, for instance, spending a fair amount of words describing the road is appropriate, because she's recalling the death of her son, but in another story, someone describing the road when it has no bearing to the character or the story might be inappropriate.
In this particular scene, I thought the level of description was appropriate for the content. She's distraught, emotional, not in a mundane state, and so her descriptions, even of mundane objects, are similarly not mundane.
philocinemas, looking back at my posts, I guess I never made it clear that I thought there was nothing wrong with your snippet, so I'm saying it now. I also never thought that it was "purple prose". If anything, the only possible problem I can see hinted at in it is the same one suggested by steffenwolf with the possible use of too many metaphors. But even that is a style issue, and as Orson Scott Card says, there's no use in critiquing style, especially with an author who knows what works for them and what doesn't.
My only real point applies to all writers, and that's one of having confidence in your own writing. That confidence, I think, mostly comes with experience and perseverance and a lot of writing. I also think it shows up clearly after a writer has a good grasp of their own writing "voice". A writer who has that kind of confidence can look at criticizm and decide if it applies. If it does, then by all means, they should adjust to it. But if they don't agree, they should just as easily be able to shrug it off. It is possible that the critiques are wrong. It is, after all, just someone's opinion.
I had meant to mention something a few days back but, being new, I had to wait for my registration to process and then the 11th was Remembrance Day up here so it has taken me a bit longer than intended. One of the sentences that you used in a later post to describe what you were trying to achieve with the lamposts struck me as actually being a more powerful choice of words to describe Meg's state of mind via her surroundings.
Instead of saying [quote]The street was desolate, and as she fled, the drooping lampposts seemed to languish in her despair.[\quote]
Something more like the following (using your own words)seems far simpler, yet more effective to me as I read. You would likely have to re-write the first sentance as well.
[quote]As she fled into the night the lampposts stood like rows of sentinels looking downcast as she passed.[\quote]
To me the second sentence paints a picture in my mind's eye. I can see the lampposts row upon row stretching out in front of her, reflecting her mood of both being downcast as well as overwhelmed... all in one sentence. It sets the scene for me as seen from her eyes.
Just my newbie 2 cents worth.
[This message has been edited by Monk (edited November 13, 2008).]
Thanks for the suggestion, Monk. This had crossed my mind after I wrote it here. I'm considering it, but I'm not sure if I like how it flows in the paragraph.
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I think of the term "downcast" to be a reference to an emotional state, not a direction. When you look downcast, you look sad. Cast downward, or look downward, implies direction.
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Downcast means in a downward direction and a sense of despondency. They are interlinked; if all the parts of a face are downcast, then the person doesn't look very happy.
Here the girl is projecting her emotional state outward and it resonates with the physical attributes of the streetlamps. They point downwards like people with their heads tipped over (they disapprove of her, or feel her pain, or...etc.)--at least that is how I read it.
You could say that the someone looked unhappy, or that that they were unhappy from the perspective of the POV character. The streetlights also pointed downwards hence why they looked 'downcast'.
The sea looked angry... (emotional state, but also description of how it looks visually).
The angry sea...(the reader knows the see isn't angry, it is the POV character that is adding their own emotional layer to it.)
The sea isn't angry and neither are the lamp posts downcast in terms of how they feel (their emotional state is neutral--they are objects). It is the viewer that sees them that way, because they bear a physical resemblance to a either a physical or emotional state experienced or known by the POV character/reader.
However, since it is seen from the MC's POV it doesn't need to look that way--it can be that way.
A reader will pick up on the choice of the word 'downcast' and its double meaning in this context, especially as it forms part of a metaphor.
[This message has been edited by skadder (edited November 13, 2008).]
I believe Monk used the word "looking" to mean "appearing", but I'm not sure. The "as she passed" part is a little redundant, having a similar meaning to "as she fled".
I really do like the analogy, but it doesn't feel right in this part of the story (even though it was my analogy) - and the wording is a little awkward. I often assign meaning to various objects (a little like extended metaphors), and I'm not sure if I want the lampposts to always be sentinels.
If anyone wants to play with the "sentinel" sentence, be my guest. Maybe you can sell me on it.
When I call “purple” in a critique-or its more politic cousin “overwritten”, I mean that the voice doesn't ring true. Others have said it before in this thread and said it better already, but heck, we're writers and we're used to that, so I'll press on regardless...
Most of the time, I find that when I express a clear idea or image in a way that comes naturally, the mechanics don't matter. Word choice, grammar, structure, whatever—the reader doesn't even notice. The problems start when I don't have a clear idea of what I want to say and the right words—my words—just won't come. That's when I start using other people's words and the purple starts to seep in.
It's not a matter of style. Dickens is awesome; beyond awesome, but when I try to use his words, his voice instead of my own, people notice. The same goes for Hemmingway, at the other end of the spectrum, though when I try to pull that one off my prose gets called stilted rather than purple.
The way ahead? You got me there, though I suspect it involves lots and lots of writing, until my own voice rings out louder in my ears than all those other writers that I've read and want so badly to become and know I never can. That's the plan, at least.