This is the third installment in my series about purple prose and strategies for editing it out of your writing. You can read this one on its own, but I recommend checking out the first and the second posts, too.
I get it. Bending words to your will is fun. Writing long and meandering sentences with numerous instances of multi-syllabic words, including a veritable cornucopia of colorful metaphors that drip with similes like a tree after a rainstorm, while, of course involving lots and lots of commas, not to mention conjunctions because of how tricksy and complex you are being, this can all be super amazingly fun to write. And like the preceding sentence, it can also be exhausting for a reader. If you are just writing for you, then by all means, purple away. But if you want to be a commercially successful writer, you will probably need to rein it in sometimes.
On a deeper psychological level, writing also functions as an act of control in an insane world. If you ask the average wordsmith why they write, they probably won’t give you this answer, but I believe it lays at the heart of many of the other reasons people do list.
As a writer, you get to picture something in your mind, then grapple with it until it is on the page and it is what you want it to be. Feeling like you described something perfectly or captured a character’s essence is a heady experience. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that the reader is going to enjoy is as much as the writer.
This is also why receiving criticism can hit us so hard. We’ve managed to create our own little world where we are the gods and ultimate masters of “truth,” then someone else comes along and kicks over our sand castle. This is why there is nothing quite so painful, or so vital, as getting your writing critiqued before you publish.
Purple Prose Fix #6: Get the Right Kind of Feedback at the Right Time
Of course, not all feedback is created equal. Different stages in the writing process require different kinds of critique. Some people are going to be better at big picture critique, while others excel at nit-picking and noticing every out of place comma. Getting more eyes on the page is never a bad thing, but you should also try to be mindful of different strengths and have the right people read your work at specific times.
The most important step I’ve taken to ensure I get the right sort of feedback is to ask for it. So often, I see people who are so shy or grateful just to get any feedback that they don’t feel like they can ask anything more. I once told a writer to set deadlines for their beta readers and was told by several people they had no “right” to make “demands.” Piffle!
In my experience, humans always work harder to meet clear deadlines than if it is some sort of amorphous “favor” hanging in the air. And if they aren’t willing or able to get back to you in a timely fashion, they can tell you up front and take the stress of waiting out of the equation for you.
Even if you don’t know the strengths of your critique partners or are just posting things in forums, it is always going to get you more productive feedback if you say your expectations up front. Just plopping something in a Facebook group is likely to get you 10 people who correct your use of further vs. farther, and nothing real or helpful. On the other hand, if you tell someone to help you catch the times you head-hop before they ever lay eyes on the prose, they will be primed for that kind of critique.
The same goes for purple prose. Ask for what you need and you are much more likely to get it from any person reviewing your work. Keep in mind though that they may not be familiar with the term, so you’ll need to do some explaining. Here are a couple helpful phrases you can use:
- What did you think about the level of detail in the description?
- Were there any sections or scenes the pulled you out of the moment?
- Did you notice any redundancies or overly complicated words?
In my next purple prose post, I’m going to talk about another possible cause that can be tied to this one and the sheer joy of writing. Of course, the brainstorming and writing (AKA the creative work) can be incredibly fun and rewarding. But that’s why editing is so important.
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Do you have any stories where a critique partner saved the day? Or has it been more like a horror story? Please share in the comments!