Revising Leah

May 23, 2008

Purple Prose

Filed under: Uncategorized — J.M. Reep @ 10:55 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

Another thing that I’m looking for as I revise is passages of flowery language that are out of place with respect to the surrounding text. As a teacher, I frequently see inexperienced writers try to compose in flowery, exaggerated, overly poetic language because they think that is what good writing is. I tell them that they don’t have to try to write that way; what is most important in writing well is clarity of expression. If your audience can understand what you are trying to communicate, even if you are using very simple language, then you have succeeded as a writer. It’s as easy as that.

So anyway, I’m on the lookout for flowery language in the 1996 draft of Leah. There isn’t a whole lot of it, but yesterday I came across this wonderfully embarrassing example:

Leah was an island of tranquility in this sea of pandemonium.

Ugh! This sticks out because there is nothing else like it on the page. It is inconsistent with the tone and language of the rest of the paragraph. A line like this might work in poem (possibly a bad poem) but I don’t want this kind of ornate language in my story. There are some authors, even great authors, who can write this way for an extended piece of writing, but I am not one of them. And even if I could write this way all the time, I wouldn’t want to do that here because that’s not the kind of writing that I want to use to tell Leah’s story. Why try to use such flowery language to tell a story about a girl who has trouble communicating? It would almost seem as if the narrator/author were mocking the main character. So here is how I revised it:

In the midst of this chaos, Leah sat in her desk, her report resting in front of her.

This is much better. I do still have “In the midst of this chaos” which concerns me a little, but at least it isn’t a “sea of pandemonium.” It communicates the same basic idea but without the hackneyed metaphors.

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