Writers love words. Some of us love words too much. We slide from literary gourmet enjoying only the finest expression, into gluttony, stuffing far too many two-dollar words and fanciful metaphors into one or many paragraphs. When we wax too lyrical, we are guilty of writing purple prose.
“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it—whole-heartedly—and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings.”
Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch
Purple prose is hard to define and somewhat objective, but it is essentially language that is excessively ornate and overdone. It is verbose, redundant and melodramatic. Sometimes it is completely off-topic. Purple prose is the enemy of clear writing.
But what happens to the phrase that sings through my heart and seems to leap off the page, my absolute favourite line even though it doesn’t really fit? I don’t murder it.
I simply transplant it to a more conducive spot, where it can grow and find full expression.
I do the same in my garden, where there are no weeds, just plants out of place.*
I take eye-catching words and make them into poetry.
In poetry, vivid imagery is encouraged and welcomed. Writing a poem exercises different writing muscles. Economy married to expansive imagery squeezes a quart of meaning into a pint pot of syllables and stanzas.
John Vorhaus put it well in his post Easy no help you where he talked about challenging yourself to do difficult things, in order to grow as a writer.
I agree wholeheartedly, though like any form of exercise, each to their own. I can’t imagine writing detective stories or historical romance for practice. But prompts and random words and genre-mashing? Bring it on.
I can practise discipline of economy with words in writing poems and songs, and use it in fiction. The aim is sharper, leaner description without getting too flowery.
And I don’t miss my brilliant phrases, because they have another place to bloom.
*Sometimes the right place is the compost heap. Like all creations, the best gardens are edited ruthlessly.