There is nothing wrong with the “pantsing” approach. Getting everything out of your brain and onto the page can be a valuable step in the process. I personally write abstracts for every chapter before I start in order to get my thoughts in order. (Did you miss earlier posts in this series? You can find them all here.)
The same can go for world-building or learning about your characters. Writers may not know every little detail about their world or the setting before they actually get down to writing. Characters have a way or growing and changing outside of our expectations. And every step of the way is important to coming to a high-quality and coherent final product.
Dumping everything out is vital, but keeping everything you dump can lead to redundancies and purple prose. The problem comes in when everything you write isn’t treated as a step, but as the final product. I often read books that start too early in the character’s life story or do all of the world-building on the page. Sure, the writer needs to know all the intricacies, but readers usually don’t. So you have to…
Purple Prose Fix #7: Kill Your Darlings
This is another piece of rudimentary writing advice that sometimes is misunderstood. People may assume this means that a writer shouldn’t be afraid to let their characters die. Instead, this advice pertains to being prepared to cut out sentences, scenes, and even chapters that turn out to be unnecessary in the editing stage. It can be difficult to cut out the pieces that we have come to love, but being a good writer means making tough choices.
By all means, keep a your first draft with all of the purple-ness and clever turns of phrase for yourself. Then, save a new copy and start hacking. You can also start a new document for just the things you cut to revisit them later and give them a new home in a different story. Your readers will thank you for it.
Purple Prose Fix #8: Get Focused
So, how do you decide which “darlings” stay and which ones get the old red pen? To be both as concise as possible as well as giving your reader enough “flavor”, every word on the page must be in direct service to at least one of the following:
- Characterization – Who is your character, how do they feel about the world, what are their goals, and how do they deal with conflict? If you use multiple POVs, different characters may be prone to different word choices than others (voice).
- Plot – moving the story forward or giving vital information that will come into play later
- Mood – This can be the hardest one to figure out when enough is enough and can sweep the writer off into the purple sunset. Try starting with the bare minimum, then ask for feedback using specific vocabulary (dreary, cheerful, chaotic, etc) for the mood you are trying to create and see if others think you’ve achieved it. If not, you can always add more in. Or if you start with a lot and get to the editing stage, cut things out but keep them in another document so you can insert them back in easily later if need be.
- Theme – Stories don’t need to have a “lesson” or “moral”, but they do need to have a theme. Man vs. beast, loneliness, the lengths people will go for love – these are themes with no clear positive or negative takeaway message. Rather, they are topics to explore from various angles. These sentences are vital to the relevancy of your story for the reader even if they don’t know it on a conscious level.
Of course, these things can be interwoven and it may feel impossible to untangle them. But part of keeping your focus is to focus on what is most important to the scene you are writing. If you’ve already put a lot of mood or characterization in earlier in the story, it’s probably time you take a step back and let the plot do the driving for a while, for instance.
In the final post of the series, I’ll be tackling one final cause of purple prose: The English language itself. Follow this blog to make sure you don’t miss out!
Until next time, stay splendid, my friends!