1. Ralderable
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    Ralderable New Member

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    Descriptiveness and flowery language in stories

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Ralderable, Nov 11, 2012.

    Greetings!

    I have been browsing the multitude of short stories that have been posted, and came upon a few I really enjoyed. Reading the feedback of others did make me question a few things about my own writing however. Myself, I enjoy descriptive sentences that are nicely written. Giving words and sentences somewhat extra attention, like you reguraly come across in poetry. Sentences that, when you read them, make you feel as if passing through a clover covered field during a blooming summer. Is this simply a matter of opinion? Or are all novel readers, in one way or another, against this?

    I enjoy using similies for example. Projecting the thoughts of my characters on the world I am creating. I also adore playing around with adverbs, but what I am wondering is... Would readers rather just read a sentences such as - I notice that it is raining heavily as I look outside once more - opposed to what I had written above?

    To what degree can one use descriptiveness, similies, details and flowery language?

    Thank you for taking the time to read this! Thanks in advance should you decide to post a response
    Ralderable
     
  2. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    This was a big problem for me. To tame it, I followed three rules:

    1) Don't drag it on too long - keep the pace of your story in mind.
    2) Limit it to only describing what actually needs describing. Rather than telling the reader everything that's in a room, for instance, only tell them about the things that are important to the story. They can fill in the blanks.
    3) The simpler, the better. Don't use long words for their own sake. Choose the simplest word you can without sacrificing accuracy.
     
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  3. Ralderable
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    Ralderable New Member

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    Thank you for the tips Gallow!
     
  4. steve119
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    steve119 Senior Member

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    I'm not sure if it is a case of flowery language. One thing I notice on occasion is sometimes people will use uncommon long words to sound clever when describing things but don't really know what the word means so it is completely out of place. I personally prefer to use words every one can understand with out my reader having to get out a thesaurus to be able to read my story.
     
  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Personally, I love using descriptive words, unsual pairings, metaphors, similies! They can really bring a work to life. But
    I also think it's a matter of opinion. There are a lot of straight forward authors and published works out there that
    have a parred down prose style. That doesn't make them inferior or superior, after all - Variety is the spice of life!

    I also think it depends on the story and the work. I've written stories that are less flowery more straight forward and
    others that are more prose infused. I don't know if I favor either, I just knew one was right for one story and
    the other wasn't.

    One of the great things about being poetic is that sometimes the most flowery pasages don't need a lot of words, just the right ones.

    I heard something positively brilliant a few days ago, I've heard it before but you know how it is with things
    even things you know, you take them for granted than someone says it again and finally you get it. Anyhoo,
    this guy says nailing the right verb will take your prose from okay to fantastic and lessen your need for adjectives and modifiers.
    I'm really starting to go over my verbs since I heard this!

    Not everything can be symbolic - sometimes people just say - "I'm beat, I'm going to bed." Or John headed for the bathroom. No frills. but
    when the opportunity arises for the extras and symbolism - it's wonderful.
     
  6. Ralderable
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    Ralderable New Member

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    Thank you steve! Yes, I know what you mean, I would be lying if I said I wasn't guilty of trying to impress readers with a few intellectual synonyms taken from a dictionary during my first writings. I quickly tuned this down to a minimal however, or so I have tried.

    Thank you peachalulu!

    I do indeed have issues with writing down overly wordy sentences, trying my best to, as you say, polish those anywhere I can during rereading and editing.

    This is very true! Thanks.

    This makes me happy! I was afraid such things weren't desired when reading novels, by most. I might simply have to read more books instead of poetry, its standard advise I overheard. ♥
     
  7. steve119
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    steve119 Senior Member

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    I also think the language you use and how poetically you use it has to fit the theme and feel of your story. for example if you are writing urban fantasy/horror it wouldn't feel right to use very poetic language and fancy words as it could ruin the feel. Whereas if you are writing an epic sword and sorcery type of story then you can be much more poetic in describing things and use fancier words as it would feel right in that setting.
     
  8. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Following on from what I said earlier, writing under those three rules

    would become

    It's still a little wordy, but it runs a lot smoother once you cut unnecessary words and focus on the core details.
     
  9. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The excerpt, as well as all critique of it, has been removed in accordance with the site rules.

    Ralderable, what you are posting about is referred to as "purple prose", excessively flowery language and superfluous modifiers. That does not mean the writing must be stark and dry. What it means is to select the right words to convey the right imagery, and not one word more.
     
  10. steve119
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    steve119 Senior Member

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    brilliantly put I'm going to write that on a Postit note and stick to my laptop to remind me never to over do descriptions because it's exactly what you need to remember.
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Problematic flowery prose tends to include words and phrases that seem to be there just to add emphasis and complexity. They don't add any meaning, and so the complexity isn't buying you anything. To me, complexity is a negative, not a positive, so when it's added it needs to earn its keep.

    For example, if you were to say, "...when I finished eating my repast..." that would have no more meaning than "...when I finished eating...", so the extra words wouldn't be earning their keep and shouldn't be there.

    And if you were to say, oh, "..irrepressibly urging..." followed by "...respectfully beseeching...." to refer to the same action, those two phrases would be both redundant and contradictory--the two phrases just don't convey the sae mood, and in any case, you don't want _two_ adjective-verb pairs to communicate the same thing. (In fact, ideally you want the perfect verb and you don't want an adjective at all.)

    And when you replace commonplace words and phrases with something more obscure or complex, that replacement should also earn its keep. In my examples above, why "repast" and not "meal"? Why "beseeching" and not "begging"? If the substitution doesn't offer a more specific or interesting meaning, it shouldn't happen.
     
  12. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I hate it, but I am also guilty as hell.
     
  13. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Who thinks this passage is unreadable and should be condensed into something like:
     
  14. Fatback
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    Fatback Banned

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    Such a fine line really... How does one elaborate without diluting meaning or short changing an event? I personally feel that expounding upon important parts while using a more basic approach with common or less important areas of the story is the way to go... Accentuate the underlying themes... Spending too much time detailing things of lesser importance to the story comes across as pedantic and boring. No one is impressed with an eighth grade vocabulary... It's how you use it and knowing when not to use it.
     
  15. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    So much has been said, so I won't beat your question to death. I am guilty, As I'm sure we all are at some point, of writing purple prose. Just remember, When you are writing creatively, write the scene as it comes to you. Keep in mind that you want to be precise, but remember that creating takes creativity. Then when you edit, consider everything you have to be verbose until it has been cut down and made more specific. Take the tone that is appropriate to the context. Save poeticism for poetry ;) unless your narrator is a poet. Always consider your audience. Will they appreciate your flowery description or will they feel like they are being danced around the room before the MC gets to the door [metaphorically of course]?
     
  16. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    With some rewrite and a little less repetition, I actually prefer the longer "purple prose" - it carries with it a particular style and mood that the simpler sentence just doesn't convey. If it were a tale you're writing, or some fantasy novel or a historical legend for example, the longer prose there would be perfect.

    I think we're in a time when the modern, simplistic style is being heralded - a some of it has to do with our growing impatience and a world that's constantly demanding that things be faster. It doesn't mean elaborate and sometimes long-winded language is always bad.

    "Purple prose" particularly expresses an excess of language - no matter how well you write, the reader does not want to hear about the same emotion described in three different metaphors, or swim in unknown words and run for the dictionary at every line, and there's a reasonable limit to any reader's patience with the exact detail you put in your settings etc. Or perhaps when you use expressions that are vague and without meaning just to sound pretty. The emphasis in descriptions, therefore, should be meaning and purpose.

    If the simplest way to write something is always the best way, then surely we will all have to resort to saying things like "The room was dim. There was a chair and a table in it."

    And now that's just boring :D
     
  17. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I agree with Mckk! This is so true. I do prefer longer prose because of the style, mood and emotion that is expressed in it :) It conveys so much more than what is explicitly going on. Just keep things in perspective. :) No body likes a dry book, but as Mckk said, no one wants to get lost in words to where the meaning is conveyed three different ways or lost entirely to mysterious diction and syntax :p
     
  18. GoldenGhost
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    GoldenGhost Contributing Member

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    I think Cog said it best. There's a difference between purple prose that sounds and reads as if it was written for one reason only: to look and sound beautiful, and then there's purple prose that is written not only because it looks and sounds beautiful, but because every word in the sentence counts, every simile, metaphor, hyperbole, adjective, adverb, what-have-you, has a place and if it were to be removed, the entire sentence/paragraph would crumble.

    Sometimes, when beauty is the focus, the entire message gets lost. You don't have to sacrifice clarity for beauty, and economy of words can be just as beautiful, if not more, because the impact is now allowing the prose room to work.

    It's extremely easy to spot purple prose that serves no purpose. It comes off cheesy and pretentious and 'Hey! Look at me and what I can do.'

    The best 'flowery prose', for lack of a better description, shines on its own and, at least to me, never comes off as either. It's just extremely well crafted, amazingly fun to read, and sometimes resembles song.

    But only if every word counts.
     
  19. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, Umberto Eco doesn't agree on that, and I sincerely think he would never call this "purple prose" (he would agree on what you said latter on expressiveness etc) :D

    This was a passage from "Name of the Rose". My point would be: read a lot of serious, beautiful prose, and a lot of classical prose, and you can get the feeling of what descriptiveness can mean in context, and what it brings to a text. If you stick with the likes of Brown or Meyer to be your writing guides, you are not going to become a next best-selling author, but you'll stay on the bottom of the food chain as another mediocre scribomaniac! Of course, that doesn't mean reading classics would help you write a best-seller - but your soul, body and mind can deeply benefit from it :D
     
  20. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    Different readers like different styles. If every writer wrote the same, it would be as boring as every painter painting the same. Sometimes the description and 'purple' prose is exactly what people are after. They want an interesting style, not just a ripping yarn. Not all books have plots. Not all paintings are clear representations of interesting subjects. I like abstract books. Other people like overly descriptive books. They are interesting in their own right. Style can be as fun to read as the story, and so can descriptions. There's a book I read, I forget the name, and the whole novel is detail. It takes place in fifteen minutes while someone is waiting at a bus stop. No story. Just detail. And it's riveting.
     
  21. Fife
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    Fife Senior Member

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    This is just my intuition here, but I think you also have to consider who your target audience is. If you are writing for others, like yourself, then there's bound to be someone out there whom is receptive to it. If you are writing to, say, a younger audience, it is possible you may lose them. Also, I feel as if the purpose of the story or the scene is very important. Poems, similes, metaphors are abstract. I feel as if the purpose of being abstract is to convey emotion that cannot be articulated directly; therefore, I'm inclined to believe that the goal of the story/scene and the magnitude of the section have an important role in gauging the amount of poetic "descriptiveness". For example, writing about grieving may be a bit more poetic than writing about a horrific celestial monster coming down to wreak havoc on Earth. And by the way, anything can be overdone. You just have to find a balance, which takes more experience than I have.
     
  22. Rafiki
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    Rafiki Active Member

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    Curse words make a wonderful analogy for this little situation. There are no more curses, the seven dirty words that George Carlin mentioned now are reduced to Hot Topic accessories worn on every prepubescent child hoping to assert their own form of corporate independence (here I am worried I am using too many adjectives). They simply don't have the impact that you come to expect, that language deserves, especially language of this magnitude. While it's true that the artificial barrier created by the parenting class between what is "right" and what is "naughty" to say is completely arbitrary, it is clear that insulting someone on this magnitude has been reduced in importance.

    I bring this up because I see a parallel between long flowery sentences and curse words. From what I understand it is well acknowledged that a writer of any notable skill can write long flowery paragraph, beautiful things that say so much while saying so little. But the issue with consistently writing these paragraphs is that you reduce their impact. Far better to reserve the adjectives and adverbs for when you want the crescendo to erupt. Like a conductor you are managing the music of an entire orchestra, and as one you have to understand that it is ok to play soft sometimes, if only to increase the impact of when you do go loud.

    There is a genre for that, if you are interested, where the entire band plays their instruments simultaneously with no regard for rhythm, meter, or musical talent. I think they call it speed metal.
     
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  23. EyezForYou
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    EyezForYou Active Member

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    It depends on the main character's thought process and how he relays information. The former does read like a preacher, or how he would tell a tale. The second does not. Even though the first is a bore to read, I'll support it since it has an authentic voice.
     
  24. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    Exactly! But what most people cannot understand is that the narrator in the text is not the same as the author - the narrator is a character on itself, with his/hers/its specific voice, philosophy, etc which may be quite different from author's. This is somehow recognized in first person narratives, but in third person it is easily forgotten.

    Now, I think it's quite acceptable for the reader to forget that narrator and author are different entities. But it's unforgivable for the author not to keep this in mind! If there is one clear sign of amateurism for me, it's the author's intention being blatantly visible and the narrator left unused, or completely ignored. I can skip through purple prose, frown on it or even enjoy it, if I'm in the mood. But if I'm constantly remembered by the author that I'm actually still in Kansas...well, I won't care for Oz anymore!!

    From the perspective of the reader/editor - just because I have to re-read a sentence doesn't mean it's bad; just because there is a strange latin word in it and I have to use a dictionary doesn't mean it's bad; just because I have to make an EFFORT in reading a text doesn't mean I should stop reading it. Just the opposite, actually. A text which requires active, involved reading is a GOOD text. As a reader I have no right to disqualify a text on the grounds of "I'm bored with it"!! It's subjective, and says more about my own inabilities than it does about the actual text.

    Now don't get me wrong - bad grammar, factual mistakes, incomplete sentences, awkward and inadequate words, things not working out in the context, paragraphs badly marked, sentences too long and incomprehensible (even to the author himself!) - they all exist and should be underlined with a red marker. But "flowery language" is not the same as bad language - period!
     
  25. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    no, it's not, in general... but sadly, often is, in practice...
     

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