I’ve written a very long fiction story titled (over 700 pages) and I am in the second round of editing. It’s a very dark subject: teenage suicide and I’ve written it in epic format (media-res, a catalogue, deus ex machina scenes, etc).
Typically, when someone begins a story that takes place in a high-school, they assume they’re beginning a young-adult novel or perhaps a coming of age story.
Because I wanted to make it clear that this is not a typical teen story, and because I wanted to create something of a darkly ethereal, dream-like ambiance, I allowed myself license to write in what is disparagingly referred to as “purple prose.”
I understand that in our contemporary view of writing, florid prosody is considered ostentatious and distracting from the “magic” of the story (which seems contradictory to me).
Considering that this is a “journey to death” story set to cynically parallel a journey home story like The Odyssey or the Aeneid, that the protagonist is a larger than life type character, that I’m trying to create a dream-like / nightmarish atmosphere, and that I’m trying to demonstrate this is not a typical teen story, I reasoned that this story was an exception where heavy lyricism could be appropriate.
Here follows an example of perhaps the most ornate prose. I know that in a “realistic” style novel, it would be laughable, but I hoped that in the context of my story it could be appropriate:
In her school, she flew amidst a pretty pitying of turtledoves, pulchritudinous girls who to some were genial, greeting them with amities and loves, columbine personas of paradise, au fait but demure, amiable and heavenly, luminous pearls frolicsome and cordial, dancing around them momentarily like uncatchable butterflies, noir fay in couture, mischievous bacchantes flittering away unexpectedly and forever, a swans’ bevy joined by belts of silver taking flight together.
Upon others however they would inflict bitter welts of vituperation, riding down upon them, fell Valkyries brandishing verbal blades of emotional mortification. All including the most steadfast feared their aeries’ approaching dismal shades in mortal anticipation of their shredding talons’ heart crippling humiliation and their ripping beaks of pitiless obloquy.
Such were Kate and her corundum crown of aureate camarilla, a radiant representation of Artemis and her sidereal Pleiades, scintillating desirably but unattainable and inviolable in an eternally atramentous firmament, an unreachable empyrean of joy within an endless void, soaring as a sky parade, dancing as a constellation of sylphs in a moonlit glade.
On a mid-September afternoon when maddened winds enrage the wine-dark seas to flaming waves of roaring foam, quiet Caleb sat alone and still in the senior cafeteria,…
Here’s another example:
Looking at Kate, he was stunned and saddened more than he had ever been, gazing at her smoky quartz eyes shining darkness as pained as children’s eyes glow joyous and hopeful; her eyes, dark as sadness manifest where light is as a darkness visible, a smoldering grief unnoticed by those who would see only her eyes’ laughing twinkle and miss the breathing embers burning in a gaze infinitely wrathful, helmed embers fierce in preparation for battle, fuming embers emanating from caverns of anguish deep within her soul, caverns descending into fathomless pitch where black memories drift in eternal turmoil.
Here’s my question: If it is excessive, even for the context, how do I know how much? How can I discern what level is appropriate for a particular context?
Certainly, some discretion will be based on a reader’s subjective taste; but I expect that there should also be a somewhat objective-ish way of matching lyrical intensity to context.
Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian has lyricism almost as ornate, and that’s a western; yet somehow he pulled it off brilliantly. Evidently, it can be done successfully.
If I do need to pull back, how much? And how do I know?
Addendum: Just to clarify, very little of the story is descriptive prose. Most of it is dialogue, inner monologue, narrative action, etc. I don’t want to make it seem like the whole story resembles the examples. Only fragments in select circumstances to combine description with ambiance.
This is to clarify some repeat/sample questions asked of the sample texts and comments expressing confusion:
The word, pitying, used as a noun has raised objections from several people. When I wanted to describe the girls as a group of doves, I looked up what a group of doves was called, and several sources indicated that, pitying, was the correct word.
When some characters were walking on a railroad and stepping on the beams going across, I looked up the word for that and found that they were called, sleepers. That’s another one I’ve never heard used like that. Must a writer really abandon a correct word because it is not commonly known? When I first read, “a murder of crows,” I was able to infer what it meant without needing to look it up. It seems odd to me that one would need to lookup, pitying. However, since it confused so many people, I’ve abandoned it, to my disappointment.
You mention that in your experience, schoolgirls engaged in hugging and hand-holding. The text I wrote had, amity, love, genial, amiable, etc. I don’t see how that contradicts hugging and hand-holding. Re: “Have you ever seen a gaggle of schoolgirls greeting each other?” When I was in school, I did see flocks of schoolgirls flittering about as though flying. I’m sure when you were in school you also saw them sometimes as demure as doves. Doves are associated with peace which I do associate with being genial and amiable. Therefore, I’m having difficulty seeing where the metaphor is mixed and where the sentence doesn’t show the motions at all.
Re: “However, you say 'cordial dancing', which is a mixed metaphor because 'cordial' implies distance and strangeness as politeness,"
I looked up, cordial, and the first definition I found was, “warm and friendly.”
The second definition was, “strongly felt.” I don’t see how you get distance and strangeness from cordial.
Re: “while 'dancing' usually indicates intimacy and passion.” The dancing I’ve seen in ballet, renaissance style dancing, Victorian style dancing, square dancing, and many others were not passionate. However, I’ve also seen passionate dancing.
The idea that dancing must be intimate and passionate seems to be a modern vulgarization of dancing. In any case, whatever interpretation is taken, it does not show a mixed metaphor unless one forces some meaning.
Re: “The point here is to stick with a theme for the duration of the description . . . so keep to the birds . . . skies” The talons, beaks, and aeries do stick with the bird and sky theme.
Re: “You want to reinforce the duality of . . . don't start wandering off into the flesh and bone ripping because that's not important.” Reinforcing the duality is precisely created by showing dual aspects of birds, the dove-like quality versus the raptor like quality. The emotional ripping is a necessary contrast to the amity and love described previously to show a duality. Actually, I was not trying to show a duality. I was trying to show the unreliability of perception. That’s why I wrote, ‘who to some were’ . . . and to others they were . . .” The attempted point is that whether they were seen as cruel or kind was perceptive and not actual.
Here follows that section as I see/read it:
she flew amidst a pretty
pitying of turtledoves,
who to some were genial,
greeting them with amities and loves,
columbine personas of paradise,
au fait but demure,
amiable and heavenly,
frolicsome and cordial,
dancing around them momentarily
like uncatchable butterflies,
noir fay in couture,
flittering away unexpectedly
a swans’ bevy
joined by belts of silver
taking flight together.
Notice the (pulchritudinous girls / luminous pearls ) rhyme. Notice also please:
~ (pretty / heavenly / bevy ) and ( momentarily / unexpectedly)
~ turtledoves / amities and loves
~ paradise / butterflies
~ demure / couture
~ amities / bacchantes
~ demure / couture
~ forever / silver / together
Also, note the first two lines there: she flew amidst a pretty pitying of turtledoves
When I read it, it sounds almost iambic to me. ~ she flew , da-DA
~ amidst , da-DA
~ pretty , da-DA
There are two syllables that break perfect iambic, but to me that breaks up monotony. So, to say that there is a lack of structure seems odd or ill-read to me. Some of the other comments also seemed to indicate a poor reading.
Re: “People who aren't familiar with the language are going to enjoy its strangeness,” Actually, in Eastern cultures, the classic and grandiose epic styles are still enjoyed by the everyday person (at least it is among the Persians and so I assume among others also.) In Iran, the epics of Ferdosi and the poetry of Hafiz are as alive today as though they were written yesterday. In the West, Shakespeare, Dryden, and Goethe feel antiquated. Literature, music, dance, painting have become vulgar (nothing necessarily wrong with that in some occasions), mundane, etc. Writing in a poetic and epic style seems more natural to those cultures that have not discarded the past as obsolete. The modern fiction saturation with realism has become cynical of elegance and approaches nihilism in its disregard of aesthetic unless it aesthetics only dares present itself humbly and ashamed of itself. In the West, Shakespeare is often associated with some snooty upper-crust whereas in Iran, the everyday person can enjoy Hafiz and Ferdosi without feeling like they’re being ostentatious.
Re: Wind can be dry, hot, cold, bitter, etc. But then, these are no longer metaphors. There is no more metaphor to be mixed.
Re: Obviously you're trying to equate it (maddened winds) to some negative emotion, Oh, I see the confusion now. You took “maddened” as angry whereas I meant mad as in lunacy. Considering the antiquated tone, the context seemed clear to me; but perhaps you could offer me some suggestion as to how to clarify that “maddened” there means, insane, and not angry.
As for, maddened winds, to me it immediately conjures an image of winds crossing in erratic sheers and various unpredictable directions. I don’t see the difficulty except that “maddened” was taken to mean angry instead of insane (erratic).
Re: “As for the Kate's eyes paragraph, all I'm going to say is that the structure is kept the same throughout so it's boring to read,”
Here is the Kate paragraph as I read it: As for the Kate's eyes paragraph, all I'm going to say is that the structure is kept the same throughout so it's boring to read,
Of course the structure is kept the same. It’s a poem. Let’s read it like this:
saddened more than he had ever been, gazing
at her smoky quartz eyes shining
darkness as pained as children’s eyes glow joyous and hopeful;
her eyes, dark as sadness manifest where light is as a darkness visible,
a smoldering grief unnoticed by those who would see only her eyes’ laughing twinkle
and miss the breathing embers burning in a gaze infinitely wrathful,
helmed embers fierce in preparation for battle,
fuming embers emanating from caverns of anguish deep within her soul,
caverns descending into fathomless pitch where black memories drift in eternal turmoil.
There’s hopeful / visible / twinkle / wrathful / battle / soul / turmoil. There’s gazing / shining smoldering etc.
I don’t see how that’s boring.
Re: “I still don't know what conclusion the male got from it.” The text states, that he was “saddened more than he had ever been.” Prior to the eyes description, there had been a section on her experiences in child abuse. The male character recognizes the anger as sourced in some deep pain which brings him to sadness and pity; but the sadness is explicitly worded.
Re: “Usually people are turned off by angry women, so... what is his reaction? “ This text goes out of its way to show that the anger is much deeper and much more intense than the typical anger that most people feel. As for the male’s reaction, that is given further in sentences later not included here. It wouldn’t be realistic to include all that in one sentence.