Thursday, June 25, 2015

Writing Beautiful Prose

I love flowers and I also love beautifully written prose. If it becomes too flowery, then I feel embarrassed for the writer. There's a fine line between what is termed purple prose and that which grabs the reader with its beauty.

I am about halfway through Anthony Doerr's bestseller All The Light We Cannot See. He is a fine storyteller but he also writes prose that sometimes makes me stop and go back to reread a sentence. Last night, one that I especially liked was The sky drops silver threads of sleet.  What a beautiful way to convey the fact that sleet was falling. It's visual; it's almost poetic. There are many other instances of this type of writing in this WWII novel.

Angeline Lajeunesse, a romance writer, said this about writing prose:
"Metaphors, simile, symbolism, imagery, description…all great tools.  Ugly prose happen when someone pastes adjectives, adverbs and long words they don’t understand into sentences trying to sound verbose and writerly."

She draws a definite distinction between good prose and that which is not. Let's go back to the term purple prose. We define it as being prose that is so ornate that it interferes with the flow of the narrative, bringing attention only to itself. As much as we want to write memorable prose, we don't want the words to take the reader away from the story.

Angeline Lajeunesse stated that tossing in adjectives, adverbs and long words doesn't accomplish much. To me, it shows that the writer still has much to learn. When a writer uses two or three adjectives per noun, we tire easily when reading the story. Throwing adjectives and adverbs into the air and letting them rain onto your story is a sure way to label yourself a newbie.

Let's take a look at the sentence that attracted me when I was reading last night. The sky drops silver threads of sleet. Note the action verb, the use of one adjective and the small bit of alliteration with silver and sleet. It's a simple sentence but beautiful, so much better than saying It was sleeting.

The story you write is of prime importance but the way you use words can make a good story a great one. Is this, perhaps, one of the reasons Mr. Doerr's novel is a bestseller?

For some writers, writing beautiful prose comes naturally. Others must acquire the ability to write memorable prose. When revising and editing your work, look at your sentences and ask yourself if there is a better way to get the idea of the sentence across. Are there words that bring a better image to the reader? But be careful. You don't want to be accused of purple prose.

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