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December 7th, 2005, 12:24 AM
Okay guys,

This is related to my earlier post, "Critique: the beginning of a chapter." Except for one comment, which was encouraging, I really had absolutely no substance to work on with the rest of you. So finally, I checked up my "story" titled Soulweaver in the story section and discovered a comment which I guess, pretty much sums it all up. This was what it said:

Submitted by Anonymous (Dec 06, 2005)

Tell-tale sounds of a hammer? Your prose is on the verge of drowning in PURPLE PROSE. Cut the adjectives and dwell more on the emotional content of your scenes.

Now, while I was writing, I was trying to make my prose a little bit more lyrical as opposed to purple--but I may have gotten a wee bit carried away. I also realized that "tell-tale" and "hammer" is cliche as well.

Here's a link to the prologue and tell me what you think. (Lyrical vs. Purple)

So what I want to know is how much prose is too much? It seems pretty subjective depending on the reader's taste. As we all know, overwriting is just as bad as underwriting and I've had my share of reading prosaic stories in the past. Also, are there some of you who actually enjoy reading stories with less "punch" but more imagery? What are your takes/interpretations on this issue?

Believe me, your criticisms/comments will be greatly appreciated. I apparently haven't learned all the "rules" for writing fiction as of yet, but as a design artist, I realized that criticism is neccessary in any field when it comes to improvement.

As noted before, I created this prologue as a guide to the much larger paragraphs/chapters that I'm currently writing. So please critique freely but with substance. The idea of "purple prose vs. lyrical" is ultimately the area of interest here but any other criticisms will be noted.

December 7th, 2005, 07:03 AM
Well, I think your prose is very good. The problem isn't one, I think, of "purple prose vs. lyric"; it's more one of focus.

You decided to have a 1st person narrator. With 1st person narrators, the prose is part of charactarisation; elaborate prose in 1st person narration makes a character seem over-emoting - and that's why the prose may seem too flowery (not because of the prose itself).

Specifically, the problem is that the female 1st person narrator doesn't imerge very well through the language she uses. For example, she uses lots of emotive words to describe the sunlight & scenery, and only occasionally refers to her uncle, who is late. In her situation, this is surprising, especially since the emotions roused by the sunlight and by her uncle's lateness are at odds (so you can't really superimpose them so they enhance each other).

Another problem is that I have no idea why she would use that kind of language. On the surface, it doesn't fit the situation (but I may not have enough information to judge). One reason the situation and the diction doesn't come together could be that narrating time (when the narrator narrates) and narrated time (about when the narrator narrates) don't come together. But there is no indication of a difference in the prose. We're led to see this as a hear-and-now situation (without temporal layers). (Example: the most crude form to incorporate this rift would be something like "I can still remember the day when..." You immediately get a double image of the narrator and the diction is attributed to the older, narrating self; not the younger, acting self.)

Summary: Your prose is very good, I like it. But it may not be entirely appropriate to your 1st person narrator.

December 7th, 2005, 08:48 AM
I generally like your writing too, particularly in your rhythm, which is a subtle skill that doesn't come easily. But I think you should turn the adjectives down a notch. For example...

1st: With fierce bitterness, my fingers slowly traced over the ridged scar of the crest imbued onto my skin at birth, brightly inked with saffron, the color of prestige that I have never known.

2nd: My fingers bitterly, slowly, traced over the scar of the crest imbued onto my skin at birth, a crest inked in saffron, the color of prestige I have never known.

The first sentence comes from your story, and the 2nd is a simple editing. I like the 2nd one better. It maintains the nice rhythm of the first, but it's slightly shorter and a reader can pass through it without tripping over the obstacles, because the obstacles are gone: fierce, ridged, brightly. In each case, I think they are unnecessary descriptors -- a reader knows a scar isn't flat, and that saffron is a bright color.

Adjectives and adverbs can be very powerful, but ask yourself whether they distract or enhance what you're trying to say.


December 7th, 2005, 12:17 PM
You will run into people who hate anything flowery or who have been taught that adjectives are evil. You will also run into a group of people/writers who feel that modern fantasy has gotten too modern, that the prose does not have the distinctive lyrical, mythic quality needed in pre-industrial fantasy novels and sounds too much like contemporary, non-fantasy novels. Ursula LeGuin wrote a very famous essay where she essentially argued this, trashing then very big fantasy writer Katherine Kurtz in the process. Which style will work is going to be very much your choice and also dependent on what you are trying to do in the story.

Dawnstorm has a great point in saying that it may not be your language choice, but how it works with the character pov and the lack of focus. A big problem in using feedback is that readers may detect a problem but be mistaken as to the cause of the problem. Even professional editors may do this. So you may have to cast your net more broadly to figure out exactly what problem you do have.

Hereford Eye
December 7th, 2005, 12:21 PM
enanu, this is me in full critique mode. You wondered at the reaction to 'purple' prose, this is how the first two paragraphs struck me. Going for a richly textured mood without careful consdieration of the verbiage leads to reactions we do not anticipate. Anway, this is my two cents:

Bright, morning sunlight filtered through the windows of my bedroom, piercing my eyes with its sheer intensity.
If the windows are filtering the sunlight, how does it maintain its ‘sheer intensity’? I suspect some will challenge the adjective sheer as redundant to intensity but I am not one of those.

Shading my face with one hand while rubbing the dust off the glass with the other, I peered through the rectangular orifice in anticipation of my uncle's arrival. My stomach fluttered with excitement.
Rubbing the dust off provides support to the filtering idea mentioned in the opening sentence. But orifice commonly suggests the opening of a tube or a cavity such as a mouth or a nose or an ear. Having a rectangular orifice is therefore jarring.

Pressing my forehead against the cold panel, I squinted through the glaring light for the specter of a black carriage traveling down the distance of the paved roads of my family's estate.
Specter suggests a ghost vehicle, an apparition. Why not simply say sight or, if you are going for mood, spectacle which would indicate you anticipate a grand carriage bedecked with ostentatious ornamentation, etc.?

My breath caught in my throat. Not at the sight of my uncle, still unquestionably late, but at the wild, mysterious expanse of Solum.
Viewing your family’s estate as mysterious seems problematic unless we are at the beginning of a ghost story where all is not as it seems. If not, then an explanation of why your family’s estate is mysterious to you is probably in order.

I was intoxicated, drinking in the land's beauty.
Mysterious expanses intoxicate you? Best you don’t play Myst.

In the way a man admires a woman, my eyes lingered on every curve, color, and shape of the tantalizing scene.
I haven’t seen landscape compared to a woman’s body since Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. This suggests and builds the expectation that the protagonist is much past puberty.

Stretching 300 leagues to the east, the dawn sun reflected off the opulent mountains, the multi-faceted rocks sparkled an unimaginable depth of colors.
What stretches 900 miles to the east? The estate? The mountains? The dawn?
Opulent mountains means wealthy or rich mountains; did you mean luxuriant, perhaps?
How can colors that are sparkling before your eyes be unimaginable?

Here, snow drifted lightly, speckling the dark brown ground of the property with its white paint.
Where does ‘here’ refer to? You were just discussing the mountains and now you seem to have shifted back to the near-at-hand estate.

To the north, stood a sea of emerald-green trees that composed the ancient Gabii forest, each adorned with a cap of snow.
Now, you swing back to the north from wherever here was and discover some non-deciduous trees comprising a forest. Evidently, the forest is getting a healthier snow than here is because here the ground is merely speckled but the forest has received enough to adorn each tree with a cap.

Last but not least, to the west, the land crumbled away slightly to reveal the rest of the village, marble buildings and towers highlighted by the eye-searing white of the sun and decorated by the shadows of the birds soaring high above it.
What does it mean that the land crumbled away?
A village has marble buildings and towers?
The 900-mile estate is part of a village?

I have always lived in Lar a' Bhaile and yet, the surrounding spectacle provided an irresistible solitude rare in life.
Do not understand how ‘always living’ in a place prevents solitude. Is it not possible to be lonely in the midst of a crowd?
Is it the spectacle of the village that we’re talking or is it the entire panorama from 900 miles to the east past the forest to the north to the village to the west?
Why are irresistible solitudes on your family’s estate ‘rare in life’? Couldn’t you experience the same thing every morning if you wanted to?

December 7th, 2005, 03:03 PM
Hello Enanu.

KatG has already pointed out the ongoing argument between those who support lyricism, and those who support sparser language. Although a simplification in a broad spectrum of writing styles, you'll find a good mix of both in fantasy and other forms of writing.

On the surface it would be easy to assume that you lean towards supporting the former - writing with many adjectives to create a lyrical effect.

But what I see in your writing tells a different story. Remember - this is what I understand from your writing without knowing you; I only have the writing itself, and my reaction to it.

Said gently: What I see and feel at the moment is a writer who is trying too hard. A writer who feels the need to pound and pound the image. I can almost visualise you with a thesaurus checking and rechecking to make sure you have that perfect word. A writer who thinks that a big intelligent sounding word is the best. I see a writer blundering around, unaware of herself and her words. I don't see you as actively choosing between lyrical or sparser writing because I don't think you are aware of yourself as a writer in such a way that you could make that choice. The writing itself is tense, and unrelaxed.

I'm going to take the last two sentences from your writing and ask a few questions about them:

"My reflection seemed to shimmer as I failed to stem the tears of memory. It was not for sadness that I cried however, but for the first time, I wept openly, almost joyously. The seed of hope had finally blossomed beyond the boundaries of my bitterness and the day of freedom beckoned at last."

- Did you ask yourself why, after years, she's now weeping openly? Or, did it simply serve a dramatic purpose for the prologue?

-Have you noticed your repetition in the following phrases: the tears of memory; the seed of hope; the boundaries of my bitterness; the day of freedom? What do you think about this repetition? Does it work for your story, was it intentional, or did it, without thinking about it, simply flow and create a dramatic sense for your prologue?

-Is there a cleaner way for you to say 'the seed of hope had finally blossomed beyond the boundaries of my bitterness and the day of freedom beckoned at last'? Do you understand how this reads rhetorically and also how there is a mixed metaphor in here: things growing, fingers beckoning. Do you understand how mixed metaphors can work for, or against, your writing?

You see you're throwing literary devices around all over the place and I don't get a sense that you know why you're using them, or what purpose they serve. The issues that Hereford Eye and Dawnstorm have already pointed out confirm that.

One of the most important things I have learned about writing is the necessity to write with your first voice. I studied under an amazing NZ novelist called Witi Ihimaera (author of The Whale Rider, which some here may have heard of as it was made into a lovely film that gained international regard). Here's what he has to say about the first voice:

Idea and Delivery need to be linked with Voice. What is the best voice to use for the story or novel? I always try to listen to what I call my First Voice. This voice is not an artistic voice in my case. But it allows me to get the stuff down on the page and to put the art into it at a later time. Some people are luckier in that their first voice is an artistic one.

I live to that credo. I've only just started writing again myself (yay) after a long absence and I'm a little rusty in getting the words out. So I make sure my initial writing comes from my first voice - I'll fix it up later, refine my craft. I'm lucky in that I have an artistic first voice, but all art needs refinement and thought, and in the passion of writing your words can go astray.

I'd like to suggest you think about that concept - once you have the guts of your words down, written from you without artifice. Then put the art in afterwards, because at the moment I don't think your first voice is an artistic one.

:) K

December 7th, 2005, 05:15 PM
I think you are doing well. My initial impression was too many adjatives but I am the type that likes all action and no description. Trust the reader to have an imagination of their own though.
On the other hand your writting reminds me somewhat of The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle. Lyrical. It is one of my favorite stories because his writting style is so beautiful and his plot so simple and yet in some respects deep and universal.

December 7th, 2005, 07:04 PM
As a reader, i like a good description of a scene. But when descriptions stretch on and on for pages (not that yours does) some readers tend to skip a paragraph or so, thinking to themselves, "it doesn't matter, just more descriptions, i'm not missing anything. i wanna get to the action."

I would never skip descriptions, because i like to hear what the author has to say, but not all readers are like me.
I like the style of your writing. you achieved part of that lyrical quality you were shooting for, and i think with a little tweaking, you'll have it in full.


(i Don't think its purple)

December 7th, 2005, 10:48 PM
Wow...that was alot of critiques, but you guys did give me a lot to think about and I'm definitely happy about that. I can't help but say that all of you are right and managed to point out flaws that I couldn't see myself. Other than the use of adjectives, I'm in complete agreement with KatG on the lack of focus. I partially wrote these first paragraphs to point me in a certain direction without a concrete plot in mind and I guess it pretty much showed...haha :) I'm currently working on the "real" outline, so when I overhaul the first paragraph, it'll definitely have a focus and hopefully a more precise use of adjectives. And no...I'm not using a thesaurus, but I can see why it looks that way lol. The worst thing is that a lot of this "stylized" writing comes naturally to me. In the past, I've had a few teachers who've told me that my writing improved 40% when I've actually opted for a slightly simpler style.

So...other then some editing, I've got to really refine the character and the plot a little bit. What surprised me the most was that my writing really displayed my confusion about the age of the character. For the first two paragraphs, I thought "kid". For the last few, I thought "adult." lol.

Okay, so thanks for all of your help. I'm going to have to do some thinking and hopefully in the next few days, I'll have it edited and see there's an improvement based on on your criticisms.

To Severn:

Yes, I have actually asked myself why she was crying over all the years. In fact, there was a very interesting purpose to it. Unfortunately, you're right about the use of literary devices. Before your post, I've actually re-read those last few sentences and realized, "man, this is unneccessarily dramatic." I can also see the repetition you wrote about.

To Hereford Eye:

Wow. You are very good at interpreting adjectives. And while reading through some of your work, I can tell that you're very literal and precise with your writing, telling things as is. Despite the differences in style, most of the things you wrote made sense to me. Now here's my attempt at explaining the use of certain adjectives. I tend to use them a little more metaphorically than literally. But it's understandable that I can get carried away and actually confuse some of the readers. .

If the windows are filtering the sunlight, how does it maintain its ‘sheer intensity’? I suspect some will challenge the adjective sheer as redundant to intensity but I am not one of those.

haha. I can see your point. A lot of it for me was: how do curtain-less windows even filter the sunlight? Perhaps I should have been more precise and instead of filtered, I should have used the word 'shone'. But I don't just carelessly throw in words. Filter has many definitions including that of "to pass through." Now in that case, the sunlight is "passing through" the windows. Also, now I don't know about you, but even windows with curtains tend to fail when it comes to decreasing the 'intensity' of the sunlight. These windows had no curtains and the character was indeed turned towards them and directly facing the light, so therefore the sunlight filtered [passed through] the windows, piercing her eyes with its sheer intensity [slightly muted, but still relatively painful to look at.]

Specter suggests a ghost vehicle, an apparition. Why not simply say sight or, if you are going for mood, spectacle which would indicate you anticipate a grand carriage bedecked with ostentatious ornamentation, etc.?

The character is simply searching for the [specter] of the carriage. The word sight would have been too plain because it suggests an object that is already in view. The mind is much more complex than that. This character does not even know for sure whether the carriage will arrive. Even if she does spot a black dot, approaching in the distance, it may not even be her uncle. It's basically like one straining to make out a shape in the distance in which they know that whatever the result, that shape, may just be a figment of their imagination. A ghost. Something that was never there in the first place.

I haven’t seen landscape compared to a woman’s body since Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis. This suggests and builds the expectation that the protagonist is much past puberty.

haha...I guess she has read too much shakespeare then. Mentally, she is way past puberty. The character's mind is much more complex than it seems, but it's something that I have yet to write. The main flaw in this beginning seems to be the lack of proper character/plot development. Hopefully the character should be much more understandable (ie. her weird fascination with the landscape) in the next draft of the prologue and chapter one of this story. But thank you, I'm going to look at my use of adjectives a little more carefully from now on. :)

To everybody who replied:

Thank you so much for your advice. I'm definitely going to use a good majority of it. I never thought that there could be so many rules for writing fantasy and I just only finished learning most of the rules for a good research paper! :p Well thanks again. I just hope that the finished product will be satisfactory. :)

December 8th, 2005, 04:18 PM
In the past, I've had a few teachers who've told me that my writing improved 40% when I've actually opted for a slightly simpler style.

And that's likely because that's when you're writing from either your first voice, or something close to it. :)

You're very welcome - I'm glad you found our crits helpful. Good luck with your writing, and keep us posted ok?