3

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?

Edit

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.

Edit: 11/12/2021

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,

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.

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

Etc.

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.

1
  • Thank you for the excellent suggestions. Please see the edit I made to address these concerns marked Edit 11/12/2021 Keep in mind as you read that edit, I believe that if you had these concerns, so will others. Therefore, I will be considering how to address your points in my rewrite. Thanks again.
    – Beebok
    Nov 13 '21 at 1:45
4

As I am not very familiar with more flowery prose, and the usage of it, I have but one piece of advice to offer - make sure that it is clear to the reader that this is the type of story that they will get.

A big thing to keep in mind, especially with the beginning of a story, is "What does this story promise?" If a film starts out with a rugged explorer going through a jungle temple, hunting for treasure, all with up tempo exciting music, the viewer will anticipate the film to be an adventure. If, following this scene, the story suddenly turns into a regency romance, audience members grabbed by the first scene will be disappointed, and those who would have watched a regency romance may have been turned away but the first scene.

Make it clear to your readers that this story will focus on penning a contemporary story in epic, grandiose tones. If that is communicated effectively, I cannot promise that this story will be for everyone, but for those who want to read that kind of story, they will enjoy it without complaint.

3
  • Your comment is the best so far because it considers the context and goal I'm trying to achieve (please see the edit I added to my comment). If you can, please provide more detail if you can. I've tried to indicate that the story is targeted towards a niche audience by things such as the title (Persephone's Seduction of Anubis), chapter sub-titles quoting various poets and philosophers, the narrator's emulation of epic prose contrasted with the characters' common speech, etc. If you can think of any more that would be great.
    – Beebok
    Oct 28 '21 at 18:26
  • @Beebok I don't particularly have more to say, but if you want to look at where I sourced my remarks, see Brandon Sanderson's Sci Fi and Fantasy lectures on Youtube. Though the lectures are geared towards those genres, many things, especially in the earlier lectures, will be applicable to all writing. He especially goes over tone, and promises to the reader, as I mentioned. Oct 28 '21 at 21:20
  • re: "... and promises to the reader..." Okay, so that's the phrase I can use to help me research further: "promises to the reader." I can investigate what Sanderson and others have to say on this subject. I think that's great advice. The reader should know very early what sort of literature is before them. I have very few dense such sentences, but readers should not be surprised when they encounter those few. You have answered me: The appropriate level of prose density depends on what the reader has been promised! Excellent advice.
    – Beebok
    Oct 28 '21 at 23:22
11

There's nothing to say you can't have a prose style that's ornate and lyrical. And as you point out others have done so with significant success.

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.

I think the thing to remember here is that Blood Meridian, a book that had a notoriously difficult time finding traction due to its ornate prose consistently has a brutal and gritty counterpoint running throughout. It's also on the extreme end of such style, if you've gone further than McCarthy did I'd say that's cause for concern.

So how much is too much? It's too much when the prose obscures what you're trying to say in the text, and that includes the establishment of "ambiance" as you put it. This is something that isn't easily quantifiable (if at all) and is going to be very subjective based on the readers' tastes. So readers are what you need - as many beta readers as you can, preferably those with similar tastes as to the sort of book you're writing and most importantly those you are able to trust to tell you the truth.

Because the way readers respond is going to be so subjective then context is everything, and what I fear might work against you here is the teen aspect - not because the reader will be expecting a conventional teen story but instead the reputation teens have for being so overwrought and melodramatic.

Let's take a minute to examine the examples you gave:

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,…

The first and third paragraphs here.. I'm sorry, I have to be blunt, they don't work. At all. It's not lyrical because it doesn't flow, instead it reads like a bit of text that's been sent hurtling through a few dozen Google translate processes while being simultaneously mauled by an automated thesaurus program and a fourteen year-old "poet" with a dark blue streak dyed in their hair who shops exclusively at Hot Topic and complains that their chartered accountant parents just don't understand them.

The second and fourth paragraphs - better. Your overlaying of the high-style elements on the mundane is clearer and the juxtaposition is more effective as a result.

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.

Personally, I think this is a bit much. You've got six different poetic descriptions of Kate's eyes, and it's excessive. Two of them are of different ember metaphors! There's that 14 year old "misunderstood" poet again. You could very, very easily cut this to one or two at the outside and still hit that ornamental "high" style note you're aiming for without boring the reader to tears.

For comparison here's a snippet of Blood Meridian

On the day following they crossed the malpais afoot, leading the horses upon a lakebed of lava all cracked and reddish black like a pan of dried blood, threading those badlands of dark amber glass like the remnants of some dim legion scrabbling up out of a land accursed, shouldering the little cart over the rifts and ledges, the idiot clinging to the bars and calling hoarsely after the sun like some queer unruly god abducted from a race of degenerates.

One of the reasons the writing in Blood Meridian is described as "dense" is that it packs so much in to the descriptions. Yes everything described in the passage gets a poetic descriptor but each element gets one or two, not six. In just 81 words McCarthy describes multiple actions, the landscape and gives a sense of the weather/climate and the ambiance. You took 99 just on the look in Kate's eyes. You see what I'm getting at? If you have multiple descriptions of something that you think capture it well - spread them out across the book, don't just rattle all six off in one passage.

4
  • 2
    I wish to God I could get more comments like yours when I ask for writing help: direct, honest, and most of all, detailed. I'm going to reread your comment many times. I thank you. I had a feeling I needed to change things, but I was too close to it to see what.
    – Beebok
    Oct 25 '21 at 16:01
  • Re: “…work against you here is the teen aspect - not because the reader will be expecting a conventional teen story but instead the reputation teens have for being … melodramatic.” I think I understand what you’re saying, but I’m not sure: Are saying that because teens are already melodramatic, then an antiquated style will heighten that rather than contrast?
    – Beebok
    Oct 25 '21 at 16:22
  • @Beebok Partly that it might lack contrast and partly that it may lessen the impact . If you're trying to impart gravity to serious matters of suicide and depression the last thing you want is the reader to dismiss what you're portraying as merely "teens being teens" Oct 25 '21 at 16:38
  • @Beebok don't get me wrong - I think you can do what you're aiming for. But it is just a potential pitfall to be aware of Oct 25 '21 at 16:39
6

I am not a native English speaker, but I consider myself fluid in English. Yet, in the very first paragraph of your example text, there are already 11 words where I would need to consult a dictionary to find out what they mean. Those with a * after them are not recognized by my spellchecker either:

  • pitying (as a noun)
  • turtledove
  • pulchritudinous
  • columbine (as an adjective)
  • au fait*
  • demure
  • noir fay*
  • couture
  • bacchantes*
  • flittering*
  • bevy

This isn't "purple prose", it's trying to impress people with obscure vocabulary at the expense of readability. Stop doing that and use words your audience can be expected to understand. If you are trying to use this as a filter to intentionally scare away those readers who would be "too immature" for your work, then the only ones who remain will be those with an English major degree (with a minor in French).

If you want to avoid that your book gets into the "wrong hands", then that's mostly a question of how you present your book when you promote it. When you don't want teenagers to read your book, then just don't promote it as a young adult novel. Market it to an older target demographic instead.

5

As a rule of thumb: Never make the reader reach for a dictionary. Every word's meaning should be obvious, either from context or because "everybody" knows that word. Life is too short to look up words when I'm reading for pleasure. In non-fiction, you get a little leeway on this, depending on the specific circumstances, but fiction targets a general audience, which can and will put the book down if you annoy them too much. If you're intentionally parodying some grandiloquent author's style, then it might be somewhat acceptable, in limited doses and with a healthy amount of irreverence, but this will not help you if you want a serious tone.

Let's just go through the first paragraph:

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.

There are two basic problems with this paragraph:

  1. I would have to look up all of the boldfaced words, because I was not able to immediately infer their meanings from context. Other people, with other vocabularies, would have boldfaced a different subset of this paragraph, but the fact remains that very few people know every single one of those words by heart. In particular, "genial," "amities," "personas," "demure," "amiable" (hey, we already used another word with that root!), and "bevy" are all rather uncommon words that might trip up other readers.
  2. I have no idea what this paragraph is actually saying, because all the big fancy words distracted me from the plot. It sounds like she's... walking through the school greeting people? I think? But if anything else is going on here, I completely missed it. The seriously problematic part is that I don't know whether I missed something or if the paragraph is just overwrought.

Either one of these problems is serious enough that an editor would have a good chance of binning the whole manuscript as soon as they see it. To answer your question: You can be as ornate as you like, but you must not sacrifice clarity or ease of reading.

2

The problem is that your abstract writing puts cognitive load on the reader. As a writer, you're supposed to explain things for the reader. I'm not in the mood of trying to figure out what you want to say. Not only are the words themselves obscure with little variation in sentence structure and rhythm, but the metaphors are mixed and there's no attempt to explain the connections between them. Finally, there's no closure.

let's see the 1st paragraph:

In her school she flew amidst a pitying of turtledoves, precocious girls who to some were genial, greeting them with amities and loves, au fait but demure, luminous pearls frolicsome and cordial dancing around them like noir fay in couture but then flittering away like a swans’ bevy joined by belts of silver taking flight together.

Ok, what in the world is a "pitying?" In all my years, I've never seen pitying used as a noun and it sounds like a mistake. Have you ever seen a gaggle of schoolgirls greeting each other? I'm going to presume you have, but the paragraph doesn't show the motions at all. In my experience, there's a lot of hugging and hand holding. However, you say 'cordial dancing', which is a mixed metaphor because 'cordial' implies distance and strangeness as politeness, while 'dancing' usually indicates intimacy and passion. After a second thought they could be snobs, but it doesn't make sense in my head. Are these students prudes in some elite highschool?

I'm going to do a rewrite to highlight structure.

In her school she flew amidst turtledoves, popular amiable girls who kissed luminous pearls upon burnished cheeks, frolicking and flittering away, the blessed who were perhaps more butterfly than human, an illustrious bevy of swans taking silver flight together.

They saw a wretched punk, of knotted hair and yellow teeth, sticking closely to the wall, a stain to the paradise upon which they roosted. When he saw the aeries approach, he turned dismal shades of fear, and his anticipation was rewarded. Came the flood of vituperated, bitter obloquy, of talons shredding into the easy welts, of swans who rode humiliation like a chariot, of Valkyries felling all who dared to brandish an unworthy existence. When they opened their beaks, the mortal realms fled the halls of trial, lest they too became caught in the ripping of harpies.

The point here is to stick with a theme for the duration of the description. You want to reinforce the duality of popular bitches, so keep to the birds/fairy/stars/skies, and don't start wandering off into the flesh and bone ripping because that's not important. In this example I decided to stick with Norse myth because you mentioned Valkyries and it's loaded with connotations to Westerners. I don't think you can reference 5 different cultures elegantly unless you find a common thread between them (For your case, hunting and birds equated to beautiful and dangerous ladies). And even if you do, they're going to be lost. Most Americans only read at around an 8th grade level.

Will people choke on the antiquated mellifluous style? I’ve noticed that among acquaintances I've requested feedback, those from Western cultures hate it and those from Eastern cultures have enjoyed it; but yes, people who will be the most likely readers won’t like it.

People who aren't familiar with the language are going to enjoy its strangeness, but people who want to understand you won't. I can enjoy a foreign song without understanding it, but obviously my appreciation won't be the same as a native speaker would appreciate. Chances are that other people are just impressed at the massive breadth of vocabulary.

From your original post,

On a mid-September afternoon when maddened winds enrage the wine-dark seas to flaming waves of roaring foam...

This example, you use personification and say "maddened winds." This is already difficult to understand and requires creativity on my part. Instead of expanding on what "mad wind" means, you move on to the next noun and now I'm left confused. Wind can be dry, hot, cold, bitter, etc. Obviously you're trying to equate it to some negative emotion, but if you consider anger alone, there's an entire spectrum for it. Don't skimp out and be vague, otherwise as an author you sound like you don't understand your settings or characters enough, and that will turn off a reader. Also, what does a sea have to do with a cafeteria? Is it a sea because the students are sweaty and gross, or a sea because every person is a nameless drop? You'll have to tell me which assumptions I'm allowed to make and which ones are important to understand.

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, and I still don't know what conclusion the male got from it. Usually people are turned off by angry women, so... what is his reaction? It's all about what he saw, and nothing about what energy he felt. Did he get lost? Did he breathe an extra time? Does he relate to her, or is he gearing up to save her against her will? Dunno at all, hence why the eye description is excessive, or rather, there's no relation to his perspective and reads like a laundry list of -ing verbs.

The basic essay format is still a building block in fiction writing. You need a topic, supporting details, transitions and a conclusion. The assumptions and knowledge in your head will not translate easily onto the page. If you're going to make a crazy mixed metaphor, it has to be explained or else people will get confused. A cordial dance is totally possible, in the context of a waltz/gala, but was that context established? I don't know, you only gave a snippet and I can't tell, but I assume not. You are right that context is important, and the metaphors need to support that context instead of going off into tangents. Or if you do go off into tangents, they must be unified and justified at the end. To most people, frequent unconnected tangents are a sign of mental illness, so you can use your artistic license, but just understand that explaining mental illness is more difficult than getting people to willingly immerse themselves into a simulation of it.

It's not to say that you can't have lyricism, but even in song there's a structure. Use repetition to reinforce new tunes and ideas. A well-read, native-speaking audience will simply notice the awkwardness more. Unless the ideas are somehow brilliant enough to shine through stuffy prose, they will find something else. As an adult, being told that basic b*tches have a dual nature is quite boring, ideawise. I assume you're trying to elicit feelings in the reader. If the prose accomplished what I think it's supposed to do, I'd be impressed at how high up their a**es these girls are, rather than the writing itself being clunky.

0

This is a question I’ve been thinking about on and off for over two years. I’ve realized that the amount of prosody that’s appropriate has similar answers to questions such as what level of other things like violence, exposition, dialogue, etc. are appropriate: it depends on purpose and context.

On some occasions I’ve told myself that the right amount of prosody needed to be a crossing between the writer’s taste, that of the general population, that which publishers desire, the writers purpose, etc. We’re living in a time when ornamentation is considered elitist although that has been replaced by other factors which make literary writing inaccessible to most, so that idea of compromise would allow for too little leeway.

Then I thought about concluding that there is no objective answer and that the correct amount of prosody depends on the artist’s subjective taste; but that seems like a cop out to me. I feel like if there’s not even a little bit of objectivity in art, then the word, art, becomes meaningless.

Now, I’m considering that the right amount depends on the context and reason. Let’s take this 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.

That’s in the first chapter where Kate is trying to find someone to help her with her suicide, someone who “gets” her. The person looking at her needs to be someone who sees more in her than anyone else. Normally, describing eyes for so long would be excessive; but in the context that Kate is searching for someone to be the person who assists with her death, he needs to be someone who sees very deeply into her.

If I’m writing in third person omniscient, then I can clarify by explaining that she noticed his sadness and surmised his depth of insight and leaned further towards choosing him.

To me, that context and purpose makes something like this prose which would normally be excessive become appropriate.

Let’s look at the other example. The lofty prose and esoteric vocabulary are appropriate because it is describing the characters as lofty divine and celestial beings. The readers put off by that wouldn't be the targeted audience. However, I recognize that the targeted audience would be so small that I will pull back somewhat by changing some words: pulchritudinous to precocious, corundum crown to bejeweled crown; and then shortening it by removing redundancies

In her school she flew amidst a pitying of turtledoves, precocious girls who to some were genial, greeting them with amities and loves, au fait but demure, luminous pearls frolicsome and cordial dancing around them like noir fay in couture but then flittering away like a swans’ bevy joined by belts of silver taking flight together.

Such were Kate and her corundum crown of aureate camarilla, Artemis and her starry Pleiades in radiant illustration scintillating desirably but unattainable in an unreachable empyrean and dancing as a constellation of sylphs in a moonlit glade.

Since the story uses the template of the Persephone myth and other Greek / Egyptian / Celtic / Sumerian myths, then the swans joined by silver belts referencing Cúchulainn and the explicit Artemis reference position the story in the mythic realm while the prosody creates an ethereal dreamlike atmosphere.

The rhyming words, e.g. turtledoves and loves, genial and cordial, heavenly and momentarily and unexpectedly, precocious and luminous, etc. make me prefer it to that which I’ve read from Tennyson except the parts that I stole from him and other poets such as sylphs in a moonlit glade (actually most of it to some extent).

Will people choke on the antiquated mellifluous style? I’ve noticed that among acquaintances I've requested feedback, those from Western cultures hate it and those from Eastern cultures have enjoyed it; but yes, people who will be the most likely readers won’t like it.

Should one care if readers will appreciate the intensity of prosody? Concern over readers reaction is another factor in determining the appropriate level. Do I care that readers won’t like it? Yes, unfortunately I will.

Can I live with that? I hope so. That’s another factor in determining prosodic presence.

Will potential publishers reject it because of its ostentation? Probably. Publisher reaction might be a concern for you as well.

Will I be willing to compromise if a publisher requests compromise? I don’t know. That’s a question each writer will need to ask himself or herself.

So, what’s the answer to my question: How much prosody is excessive and how to determine that? I hope that what I’ve suggested here, although I have not provided a direct answer, implies direction or at least food for thought, namely that context and purpose play a significant role in deciding.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.