1. Dauracul
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    Dauracul Member

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    Purple Prose

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Dauracul, Feb 22, 2011.

    So in another thread, I came across the term "purple prose" for the first time. Ten years of writing experience, and I did not know about this, or that it was discouraged.

    As a brief definition, purple prose from what I understand is prose that is overly flowery or descriptive, to the extent that it takes away from the scene.

    I took a loot at my current work in progress, and I'm now worried that I use too much of it.

    My first chapter opens up with a (hopefully) captivating, almost poetic description of my character's eyes. They have an appearance as though they are lit aflame, and they hold within them a magical ability very key to the character and his ability to confront other sorcerors, but I spend around 2 paragraphs on his eyes alone. (Granted, not just describing them, but showing that he's looking at something intently, which I then segway into revealing what he's looking at.)

    Would this be too much purple prose? More specifically, would purple prose be appropriate to start off a novel with if the subject matter was intriguing enough?
     
  2. Terry D
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    Terry D Active Member

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    The key is in your description of purple prose; "prose that is overly flowery or descriptive, to the extent that it takes away from the scene". Intentionally excessive description, and the use of 'flowery' language is acceptable so long as it doesn't work to the detriment of the scene. In my opinion, you are taking a risk by starting the book with lengthy descriptive passages. You can lose a reader's interest very easily in the first pages of your book.
     
  3. Dauracul
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    Dauracul Member

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    Maybe I'm just being overly critical now that I know of the term. I've read over my work and I feel I've done a good job maintaining the flow of the scene despite the descriptions in the introduction, but then again I'm just one person.

    I do tend to go into more detailed descriptions of things that are important to a scene or the story, though. Would it be acceptable to use what some may consider purple prose, if the description in question was intentional? Like, say I wanted to have the main character completely captivated by something he's looking at, would that object's description be appropriate to go a little overboard with?
     
  4. zilly
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    zilly Senior Member

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    If I opened up a book to read two paragraphs about a character's eyes, I wouldn't read the third. I'm just sayin'

    On a more serious note, if it's vital to the story--which I doubt, keep it. If you thought it would be an interesting way to start a story, sum it up in a short paragraph or think of something better.

    Note: I'm not the biggest fan of description.
     
  5. Pallas
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    Pallas Contributing Member Contributor

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    While your intent to convey the protag is mesmerized by an object may be vital to his development, it seems opening with a slow and lengthy scene as this might ward away a passing reader or worse a busy agent. Perhaps it would be best to find another place for it a bit deeper in the chapter.
     
  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Saying that the person's eyes were blue is fine. However if you wrote something like "His eyes were a clear blue, like that of a calm lake on a warm sunny day."

    Description is essential. Going overboard about it isn't. Say what you mean. His eyes are blue? Say they're blue and move on.
     
  7. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Two paragraphs seems a bit long, but then I haven't read them.

    I'd describe them with a short, to-the-point description. One strong image that conveys what the reader needs to know.

    Lit aflame sounds nice, I like that.
     
  8. Dauracul
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    Dauracul Member

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    I do agree that eyes should not be overly described, as with the blue eyes example above. However, my character's eyes are literally lit aflame, and I feel they deserve such a description. I'll definitely look over what I've written to see if there's a more concise way to say it, but as of right now they are a key element to the character and his abilities. Which is the reason I opened the chapter with them in the first place. If anyone is interested in actually seeing an excerpt if they'd like to give some feedback, I'd be glad to PM someone.

    EDIT: Sorry for the confusion, in my original post I mentioned "as though they are lit aflame" which is incorrect. I didn't mean to contradict myself here.
     
  9. Manav
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    Manav Contributing Member

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    The problem is purple prose distracts the reader from the subject matter!
     
  10. SeverinR
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    SeverinR Contributing Member

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    If the opening floods the reader with endless amounts of words describing something that is not important to the story or that the reader doesn't understand is important to the story,(like someones eyes) then your boring the reader.

    The point of view to consider for a purple prose, is the readers, not the author.

    The persons eye color might be important, but the reader needs to know its important before they are overwhelmed by the words.

    In the beginning of one of my stories, I describe a beautiful forest my family is traveling through, and I probably over described it, which detracted from the story.

    But in another story, I used the same type of forest when a orphan is hiding in the woods from slavers, more ominous and forboding descriptions, just as many words, but the reader understands why the description is important.

    The first page, even the first few paragraphs will decide for the reader if he wants to continue to read it.
     
  11. Dauracul
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    Dauracul Member

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    Okay, I've done a bit more researching on this, and it seems like the term "purple prose" is pretty subjective. I had initially taken it to mean "too much description" but it seems like it's more accurately associated with description that is over stylized.

    One person's purple prose can be another's vivid description. It seems like its just one of those aspects of balancing what to use and what to not use too much of that comes with writing in general.
     
  12. FictionAddict
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    FictionAddict Senior Member

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    I think you're being overly critic about your work. Descriptions are too much when they go overboard when it isn't necessary. If the eyes of your character are an information critical to the story, then keep the description.

    Of course we should always look back at what we've written and try as much as we can to be concise, to use only the words that are absolutely necessary.But, again, if the eyes are important, describe them.

    J.R.R. Tolkien in one of the most descriptive authors I've ever read. Sometimes I just skimmed through the paragraph he was describing a tree or a forest because I felt he was putting too many boundries in my imagination. Even so, I love his work. I know he did so many descriptions because he was creating a world from scratch and needed to tell the reader exactly what was he talking about. The descriptions had a purpose. They weren't just to give style or to flower the writing.

    Anyways... I'm rambling already. Lol.

    If you want me to read an excerpt to have an extra opinion, just ask :)
     
  13. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    This.

    There have been lengthy discussions on here in the past about what is or isn't purple prose, and consensus is never reached. Whether something is or isn't purple prose is mostly dependent on two things: the genre you're writing, and the quality of the writing. Obviously the second one is the big deciding factor--if you write well, readers will read whatever you want them to--but readers expecting a fast paced, action packed story will be far less tolerant for description than someone expecting a more stylish or descriptive story. If your writing is highly descriptive, and you feel that your writing does it justice, don't remove it for the sake of one group of readers. It only becomes 'purple prose' when it is unreadably descriptive or over long. I also have to disagree with Link's earlier post; there are definitely times where long, elegant and imaginative descriptions are much better for the story than a strictly utilitarian approach; if your character's eyes are important, devote as many words as you need to establish their importance.
     
  14. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i wouldn't read any further, if a story/novel opened up with a lengthy, florid description of someone's eyes... and neither would most agents/publishers...

    if you really want to know if what you wrote would fly, just post the first 2-3 paragraphs here and see what feedback you get on it...

    and btw, the word is spelled 'segue' even though it's pronounced 'segway'...

    hugs, maia
     
  15. guamyankee
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    guamyankee Contributing Member

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    Oh, bummer. I think they took down the "Astonishing Beauty" thread. That was a perfect example of purple prose.
     
  16. Unit7
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    Unit7 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If they actually have flames in them, then its ok to describe them.

    Even the eye example about the clear lake could work fine if handled correctly.

    Like if a guy sees this beautiful girl and has blue eyes then he might just describe it that way, especially if he considers himself a poet/romantic.

    Maybe I am completely wrong. But such description needs to be handled with care. To much can be annoying but a bit here and there wont. Atleast not to me.
     
  17. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Purple prose is slightly different from lengthy descriptions.

    Purple prose is usually lengthy but not always, and not all lengthy descriptions are purple prose.

    Purple prose, the way I see it, is when you write stuff that makes the reader want to throw up. For example: "Her lush auburn hair cascaded down her back like the first leaves of the autumn, and her clear blue eyes held the depth of summer pond."

    It's okay to compare your MC's eyes to a lit flame. This in itself is not purple prose, and I actually really like the comparison.

    Just don't do it in a way that goes on and on and/or makes you seem like the MC's obsessed lover.
     
  18. Paris_Love
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    Paris_Love Member

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    My rough drafts are usually rife with purple prose. I take my drafts apart sentence by sentence and eliminate any unnecessary words or redunadent statements.

    Don't worry too much that you are being overly descriptive while writing your 1st draft, just get it down. Then when you're done, go for the slice and dice. I aim to get rid of 40% after my initial edit.
     
  19. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that two paragraphs of description at the beginning of your story will be a problem, yes. Eventually, your readers may be interested enough in your character to have the patience for a long description, but at the beginning, you haven't earned that interest yet.

    And even later, I think that long unbroken blocks of description are a strain on the reader's patience. You see the subject as exciting, but readers are pretty jaded. You're likely to get "Yeah, yeah, flaming eyes, yeah, magical, yeah, OK, sure, please do something now."

    However, I do agree that the first draft is too early to be worrying about purple prose or even about how to open the story. Get the thing down, go through an editing pass or two, and at that point you may realize that your real opening is somewhere on page ten.

    ChickenFreak
     
  20. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    At the risk of sounding elitist, some readers are much more interested in the quality of your writing than how exciting it is. I personally don't care at all about plot--sure, if a synopsis sounds interesting, I'm more likely to be interested, but it is rarely if ever the deciding factor in whether or not I like a book--I'm much more interested in your writing style. Granted, if we're talking about a character whose eyes are literally aflame, I'm probably talking to the wrong crowd, but bear in mind that making your writing exciting shouldn't be your top priority. Catering to kids with ADHD is what cartoons are for; books are slower, more rewarding experiences. Don't be so concerned with starting with break-neck speed, make sure that what you are starting with fits the story and is well-written; it should be your writing style that catches the reader and engages their interest. No matter how much plot you cram into those first few pages trying to start at a high speed, readers will lose interest if it isn't well written.
     
  21. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Just so the OP can have rounded and diverse responses -- not trying to spark a debate and hijack the thread -- I disagree with Arron. Yes, writing style is important. Yes, knowing what the various rhetorical devices are and how to use them to create the desired effect is important, and these become the types of books that kids study in schools and that become classics.

    With that said, though, I'm not going to read through a story that has no plot or that is too slow-moving for my patience. I like action and tension and something to keep me turning pages despite my busy worklife and social life.

    Cartoonish-flat action won't cut it, and it doesn't have to be at groundbreaking speed, but it does need to progress somewhere, and relatively quickly. When I was a senior in high school, I had to read Moby Dick, and after the first two chapters or so I resorted to SparkNotes. No matter how great and classic the book was, the author spent an entire chapter describing a church and another entire chapter describing the MC's room on a ship. The symbolism and parallelism was great and all but..... No thank you.
     
  22. Dauracul
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    Dauracul Member

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    This sentence really stuck out to me, thank you for pointing that out. I know the character inside and out, so its instinct to go crazy with his description, but I can understand it from a reader's mindset now.
     
  23. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    i think i have the opposite problem; i need more poetry in my descriptions, hehe. and im working to sneak it in every now and then but i think its something scandinavian; we dont use as much purple prose, lol. at least the writers from my own country that i have read doesnt. but i dont actually think its a scandinavian thing really, it was mostly a reflection, ;) what i wanted to say even the opposite isnt good, and im working on it.
     
  24. joelpatterson
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    Having just read the novel for the first time, I'd agree: there is no way that it's going to captivate any high school senior I ever met. For one thing-- as we get further and further and ever-further away from the world where whaling was as common as message board posting is today, all his references, implications and insights loose all their meaning.

    For one thing, he goes into gory detail surveying all the contemporary literature about whaling, assesses its accuracy, critiques the artwork... like, who cares? And the humor in the book is very, very dry... parched, say.

    But every so often, you do get a "you are there!" sensation, like this excerpt where he talks about boiling down the whale oil, at night, on a stormy sea...

    http://www.4shared.com/audio/wnSb-IAP/Moby_Dick_ch_96_-_Joel_Patters.html
     
  25. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Yes, I know. On and on and on and on. For thousands of pages. I got sick of it. And this is coming from a girl whose favorite book is Atlas Shrugged. That one has annoyingly long diatribes but at least it moves quickly and has lots of stuff going on and any given moment.
     

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