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Saturday, October 24, 2009
Purple prose is over-writing. It is when a bubbly, over enthusiastic writer uses far too many exciting, colorful modifiers; sensationally sizzling verbs; and excessively dramatic hyperbole. Well... you get it!
Purple prose is bad writing.
But, purple prose has many good uses.
Here are some we discovered:
1. Purple prose is great for loosening up and overcoming writer's block.
2. It helps a writer discover colorful words.
3. It stimulates new ideas.
4. It can be used to breathe life or fun into a piece, and edited for the best portions.
5. Purple prose is fun to write, and creates momentum and energy in the writer.
6. It is great for inspiring melodrama and humor.
7. It is a fun way to explore plot twists and turns.
8. It is especially useful in November when fatigued and starving Nanowrimo competitors are gropingly desperate for words to count!
We had a competition to see which of us could create the worst (or would that be best?) purple prose in three categories. We decided to post it here and let you determine which ones are the most purple. This will get long, so feel free to skim or skip if you like. That is typical of purple prose anyway.
We hope you are inspired, or at least laughing. We challenge you to duel as well. To participate, pick a winner for each category, and leave one or more of your best efforts in the comments. (You don't have to be a member of this blog to participate.)
Category 1: Where you live
A: She looked out her kitchen window at the miles and miles of glorious, flat, spacious, open land. Only an occasional tree or house interrupted the horizon. Nowhere else in all the remaining sphere of the earth could one find the vastness of this marvelous free ranging land!
B: The wind lashes through like a death angel: uprooting all plants except the most strong, demonic weeds. The land is saturated in brown death; the air at times putrid with rotten grain and fresh, brown pies. The sun glares, often bleaching the sky like parchment. The air is so dry you feel as though you are suffocating. Hawks circle, ravens chortle, and the doves sob. But in the midst of this desolation... a spot of green sheltered by elms, and willows, and pines. And there stands a brick house the color of sand -- the place I call home.
Category 2: Where you shop
A: I pushed open the door, and stopped to take in the intoxicating smell. My eyes caressed the items surrounding me, longing to touch and hold everything. Colors were dancing and prancing, trying to snatch my attention. I basked in it all for a moment, taking in deep luxuriant breaths. Joy and passion swelled inside me, longing for just one piece. "Fabric! Oh, how I love you!"
B: She entered Porky's. The grocery store was the only respectable, genteel, gracefully aging business on one side of a shabby, old, run down shopping center. The strip mall, appropriately called, had been stripped of all usefulness, beauty, and respectability. The grocery store was the one remaining spark of life and goodness in the area. Compared to the overblown parasitic commercialism of the larger supermarkets; Sandy loved the smaller, cozy size of this store, and the ever gracious, hospitable, solicitous helpfulness of the employees.
Category 3: Your transportation
A: She climbed into the red monster of a vehicle. At her age, getting into the suburban was like climbing Mt. Everest, and about as dangerous. She furtively reached up to grasp one of the hand-holds. It seemed to be light years away from her desperately extended fingertips. Finally, with gasping, choking breaths, she stretched far enough to grasp it. She lifted her leg up to the floor of the monster, then pulled with her arm and pushed with her leg to lift herself past that vast gaping chasm between the gravel and the vehicle. She pulled and pushed with all her strength, stretching every sinew, straining every muscle, bursting capillaries and veins until at last she heaved herself onto the seat of that cavernous beast. In exhaustion, she looked out over the blood-red hood of the vehicle, imagining that it had gotten its scarlet color by slaking its thirst with her life-blood, which now flowed dripping off its vast cold side.
B: I am sleek and red as a poppy. But I am tough and dignified like an army tank. I prefer to call myself Gladiator, but the ignoramus who orders me around calls me "Suburban". What an indignation!
Friday, October 9, 2009
Today we (Brandon, the kids, and I) are in Albuquerque for the balloon festival. Today is one of the days where the shaped balloons are highlighted. We got up at 5:30 (but it sounds more impressive if I say we got up at 4:30, which is what it was New Mexico time) in order to eat breakfast and get out there in time to see the balloons go up at sunrise.
Row by row, the balloons billowed as they filled with hot air and slowly rose. The shape and colors of each balloon weren't fully discernible until they were completely full and ready to take off. What is that black and white one? Felix the Cat? No, Mickey Mouse. It turned out to be Pepe le Pew.
Then, amid cheers from the crowd, they would rise and float away, seemingly as effortlessly as soap bubbles (and there were vendors, coincidentally, selling soap bubble guns).
A couple of unflattering comparisons arose in my mind about writers, ego, and hot air, but I discarded them in favor of this:
An idea is like an empty hot air balloon. In fact, for me, it's like a balloon that someone else has given me, that I didn't work for at all. I have a lot of ideas, more ideas than I have time or energy. I don't know where they come from, and I don't take full credit for them.
The hard part isn't the idea (for me, but that may vary from person to person, I'm sure), it's making something of it. A hot air balloon isn't much to look at until a lot of energy has been expended to fill it up and flesh it out. Features become obvious that were previously hidden. Finally, the work is finished, waiting to be set free like the balloons bobbing, tethered to the ground.
Then a pilot and some other crew members are needed to make sure it gets up in the air. The final completed work, published, looks as effortless as a soap bubble, but in truth it took a lot of work and guidance by various individuals along the way, more than any casual observer could understand.
There was also something particularly appropriate about this metaphor since many of the balloons that we saw this morning were completely fantastic--a gargoyle, a goldfish, a steam locomotive, a witch, a haunted house—imaginations set loose in reality.
Saturday, October 3, 2009
Anyway, I'm way off the beaten path, here. So, back on track, here.
Do you ever feel that you are just out of step with time? Like everyone around you is moving on one scale and you're just a half-beat off? That's how I feel sometimes.
I remember seeing a sketch on Saturday Night Live once using that premise. It starred the host, Rob Morrow (Doc. Joel Fleishman on Northern Exposure) as a guy who, while lunching with his friends, attempted to engage in the conversation and interject jokes or funny anecdotes...but his attempts kept falling flat. Like they were just a hair off, one half-step too late. The friends at his table kept looking at him in that uncomfortable way, trying to muster a genuine laugh, yet only managing half-hearted, embarassed chuckles. After several failed attempts, he finally excuses himself to the restroom and instead goes into a time machine sort of booth, resets his time, steps out and rejoins his friends at the table. Now, magically, everything he says just...fits right. And the sketch fades out.
That's how I feel about my writing... like my perspective is just...a hair off; not needed... out of sequence. Like my observations and viewpoint are just...out of time. Almost as if the time for my writing/ viewpoint/ perspective has, sadly, passed.
Now I sound like I feel sorry for myself. That's not true. I can't see anything other than how I see it, so there's no use in lamenting the fact, yeah? Maybe ...my viewpoint isn't commercially viable. So what? One could make the argument that Jane Austen's small worldview didn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. Her writing was critiqued by the Bronte's (blech. Can't stand them.) as being too naive and innocent. She was criticised for not venturing beyond her limited country upbringing for subject matter. Yet look at the impact her little world -- with the limited society and restricting manners -- has had on the larger literary world.
Now, I'm not saying I'm a Jane Austen, my ego will never be healthy enough to make that claim. What I am saying is this... if Jane Austen hadn't shared her talent with the people in her life -- because she shared her writing with her family and a few select close friends, at least for the most part -- if Cassandra had burnt all her stories in addition to most of her personal letters...imagine what we would have lost! Thank God, Austen showed her stuff to her family. Thank God they thought enough of her writing to seek publication on her behalf posthumously. Thank God her little world and her way of processing it has a treasure trove of interests for those of us who read and reread her works...treasuring them as the priceless legacy they are.
I have no such hope for my own stuff, because I'm 1) realistic and 2) ridiculously unintuitive. Austen had a grasp, in her short life, on the motivations and idiosyncracies of the people who populated her world. I am not sure I have either her intuitiveness nor her fearlessness in portraying, faithfully, the people who populated her world.
It takes courage to write what you know; to be true -- especially if you think it's uninspiring or uninventive or lacking in creative initiative -- to your own viewpoint, world view, 'limited' experience. Yet, you are the ONLY "You" in existence. No one else can have your unique viewpoint, no one else can inhabit your specific time/space continuum, no one else can hold the exact opinions and insights you hold.
Share that "You" in whatever way you can. Someone will find their life enriched by your gift.