Pretty in Ink, and Other Lessons My Agent Taught Me.
Updated: May 30
Five rewrites ago on my current MS, my agent―the marvelous Stacey Graham― informed me that my prose was purple-y.
Okay, I thought, being a newbie, purple is a majestic color. Okay, wrong. Come to find out, in the literary world, purple prose is writing that is so ornate, overdone, and flowery, that it breaks the flow by drawing excessive attention to itself. Taking a good, hard look at my story ―
SHE WAS RIGHT.
I read my purple passages out loud. They clunked with multi-syllable words―a few of which I had to look up again. What reader wants to stop in the middle of a love scene and Google obsequious? I had sentences written so run-on they could win a twenty-six mile marathon. Yet, there were places so bogged down, the story choked on itself. That's purple. I had it in groves. Actually, those are called purple patches. Either way, I had 'em. And for some reason, I kept watering them, page after page after page.
Being a bit of a smart-aleck, I figured there must exist a blue prose, and that would be the accepted toning-down of purple. Wrong again. Blue prose is all about cursing, swearing, and using profanity. Learned something else there, even if I couldn't !#@$ use it.
For those who despise having just two crayons in the pack, there's also a style called beige prose. Beige prose involves direct and simplified wording. There's no imagery here. When used correctly, it keeps the story going. Too much beige paint, however, and the whole thing is boring. I'm guessing Ernest Hemingway was one of the very few artists in this world who could wear beige well.
So what's a purple writer to do? I read. And then I read some more. There are authors out there who glide beneath the purple seas― authors such as Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I discovered that there was a way for my writing to be pretty and poignant without annoying readers like a kid's TV cartoon dinosaur.
So, thank you, Stacey Graham, for teaching a newbie a few things about coloring my words a whole lot better inside the lines, even if —
"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.'
Sorry, but I just couldn't resist.