Sunday, 2 August 2015

Purple Without Rhyme or Reason

All the skin-covered digits on Tamara's hands, located at the ends of her arm-like forelimbs like marvellous verdant leaves at the end of a tree trunk albeit not bearing the same colour nor otherwise resembling the aforementioned, impinged upon the pale, white, pallid, achromic, alabaster-coloured, hard, solid, smooth, three-dimensional bodies of plastic known peradventure more commonly with more common awareness to modern common English-speaking inhabitants of such regions as the glorious nation shaped and alas! formerly inhabited by King Arthur, the once and future king, as keys on what shall thus be known as her keyboard, composed thus of the words key and board, in the manner of a butterfly settling on a luxurious burgundy, yet ever slightly so slightly mahogany-coloured flower on an incandescent daylight session of summertide in the northern hemisphere of a planet called Earth, or Terra, orbiting the sun of the Milky Way galaxy, that same magnificent region of the magnificent universe that this magnificent story also taketh place in, in order to type fan fiction on its tiny, small, little butterfly-proportioned laptop, and letters began to form words began to form sentences began to form paragraphs began to form this post on her computer screen in utter disregard for the reader's ability to make any sense of it.

I recently made a post about using repetition in order to artificially stretch a story and what to rather do instead. Well, here's another thing not to do, and as the above paragraph shows if you made it through it (in which case: congratulations), it's likely worse. This thing is fortunately not as easy to do out of habit; much rather, it tends to be the result of too much goodwill. This phenomenon is the result of taking a decent narrative and polishing and enhancing it until it's no longer decent. It's the epitome of shooting so far past the goal that the story lands in the middle of a crocodile-infested marsh in Equatorial Guinea and gives the crocodiles a stomachache because it's so convoluted and full of nonsensical metaphors. It's called purple prose.

Now, it's obviously a matter of taste how detailed one would like the descriptions to be. I'm not personally opposed to elaborating on the various aspects of what's happening and do it a lot myself to control the pace of the story and provide interesting little tidbits for those who care. I actually enjoy reading information that is ultimately pointless to the plot, but helps paint a more vivid picture of the setting, characters and events. However, this is exactly what purple prose generally does not.

So what's the difference then? When does the prose become "purple"?

The answer, I believe, is when it ceases to convey anything meaningful - and I do mean "meaningful" and not "important". Small details may be unimportant, but they still describe something within the story. Prose is purple not because it goes into detail, but because the elaborations are all on the stylistic level and end up stretching it way beyond its purpose of conveying information. What makes it long is not what is written, but how it's written, and that's the point at which - in storytelling - it becomes a problem, in my opinion. The focus has shifted from informing the reader to trying to perform literary acrobatics in a context where it's simply not desirable

That is not to say the writing has to be crudely simplistic, of course. Indeed, an utter lack of polish is not generally desirable and "dumbing down" the style can be perceived just as negatively. However, there needs to be a balance, and the narrative has to remember that it's intended to actually carry a meaning. Add to much decor and it detracts from the meaning. If the paragraph is 1% meaning and 99% embellishment, it becomes a chore to read, and in proportion to that, the reward most likely isn't worth it.

Oh, and here's a better version of the paragraph from the beginning:

Tamara began typing on her keyboard to compose her newest blog post.

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