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Ruled by Adjectives

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Jerry, Aug 27, 2019.

  1. Jerry

    Jerry Scribe

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    Without trying to be purple or over-descriptive, I tend to write, or attempt a more poetic prose for a style - in terms of imagery or descriptive style or world building, etc. But I seem to always fall into the trap of just too many adjectives, at least, it certainly appears that way... or am I being too harsh? Most times, I reread and find the prose with the heavy adjectives and try to expand upon the adjective by removing the word and create a more vivid description, if need be. Yet, as I read on, there they are again. Are too many adjectives too many? Obviously one after another, or before each noun or so would be overkill... but I find myself after long hours of writing always falling into the same adjective traps and seem to every time, in paragraph after paragraph. I'm aiming for a more painterly style in my prose, but am I over doing it (even in descriptive prose without the weighty adjectives) or in my adjective usage. How can I avoid these pitfalls.. or are they at all?


    For example, in my story:

    ----

    In the blackness of Makȟóčhe Wašté, there is a devouring stillness. A breadth of despair and bitter beauty where demons are conjured by parasitized hearts and gods invoked in murmuring prayers. Low-set clouds crowned the panorama and throbbed like birth pangs ready to burst, dragging their sooty bellies across the earth where brave warriors once came to fight the ghosts, perhaps, still at war, lost somewhere upon the profound horizon.

    Some heard the voices of the dead and would venture no further. Tales or truth, it was hard to know the difference. Truth was hard to come by. Truth was as fleeting as the vast mirage that stole sight and sound and for some, their sanity. It seemed all the Great Plains allowed were stormy gusts upon which dead leaves found their escape and the spoken tales of an indigenous past left to wither in the coming frost.

    And upon the plains, waniyetu came darker, indeed, colder than ever counted.

    Thirteen moons passed and the wintry blade unsheathed with ferocity and tore open the pale blue seam to bleed it black. As the sun yielded its sovereignty, the dying embers of the ruling hearth slipped away between earth and sky and seared the plains into an indiscernible horizon as the Great, Long night came to power.

    -----

    You can see the adjectives at work and after I reread what I wrote, I want to go in and slice at the adjective(s) and fix it with a more 'painterly or descriptive sentence or phrase'. Overkill, either way? Or should I hang it up and live under a bridge. In setting up a scene, setting, or character description, I don't lay it on thick, not always, but as in my above example, in this sort of 'poetic' style, for lack of a better term - there I go again - is it worth the read? I want to keep my story simple, yet as well, not be so straight forward or concrete with every scene or word.
     
    Last edited: Aug 27, 2019
  2. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    One way to edit your own work here is to take the sentence apart, to see if each clause works without the surrounding decoration. For example, what is a "profound horizon?" What does that phrase conjure? It only trips me up, because the word means deep, not distant.

    OTOH, "devouring stillness" can work, especially if you have set it up that sounds are being muffled and that there is little movement evident.

    OTOOH, while despair can spread, "breadth of despair" pulls in two directions; one is measurement, the other emotion. "Bitter beauty" doesn't work unless you've already established that something in view is beautiful and that there is some bitterness associated with it.

    I'm not sure "parasitized" is even a word, though having a heart with a parasite is nicely creepy.

    The image with the clouds didn't work for me at all. I'm pretty sure I've never seen a cloud throb, though if there was lightning or magical effects in play, then the clouds might *seem* to throb with sudden light. In any case, birth pains are (from every description I've ever read; or witnessed) a far cry from a throb. Sudden stabs that seem to go on forever would be closer to it. By the time I'm to the end of the clause, having bursting birth pangs just left me confused.

    And so on. Before you can wonder whether or not you're using too much, you have to be able to be crystal clear about how each image reads.

    Finally, you don't need strive to be "not so straight forward ... with every scene or word." That overstates the issue. Don't be afraid to be straightforward sometimes. In fact, just for exercise, you might try rewriting a few passages with more prosaic prose. If your hero is in the midst of some crisis of the heart or moment of decision, you don't want to distract from that by spending time painting the rafters. But if you're trying to set the mood for a scene, then unleash the purple hounds!

    Just make sure they really are hounds and not cats in fancy clothes. Make sure each image is doing its job and pulling its weight.
     
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  3. Jerry

    Jerry Scribe

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    Pretty much on the money as usual Slip Knox and I appreciate your response. Truly appreciate your talent and sound advice. It does however clarify my fears that I can't put it into words. I have over 300 plus pages of this shit and well, that may be better than none at all, it's still 300 pages of shit. I should be able to just write. To tell the story. Just write as it unfolds, but my brain goes straight to adjectives and purple crayons all the time and I can't rid myself of the trap that I continue to lead myself into every time. I will try your exercise my friend, see what I can do. But I fear, after many years of writing, nothing will change. I can bring it out of me and put it on the page. This is the art... Maybe I lost it or never had it.

    The 'image with the clouds' that didn't work for you (and for me!) was just another example of my simple-minded struggle. I took that line out and what follows many times - then back in again. Why do I struggle with this? I should just be able to sit and write with a logical approach and not feel the need to flower every thing up. I'm so in love with allegory and Shakespeare and the like that I tend to want to write that way. I must find a way to keep away. Any more advice about progressing forward would be helpful. It's writing 101, I know... but that's what hurts the most. What the hell have I been doing?!
     
  4. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    There's a handful of authors who can just write. Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov. That sort of people. Most of us write shit.

    There's layers of the stuff. One layer is down in the weeds where grows the purple prose (couldn't resist the rhyme). Another layer up is the scene. Never mind what color is your prose (good title for a book on writing advice!), do your scenes work? Above that, how are the character arcs, plot pacing, that sort of thing. Honestly, it'd be better to work on the higher levels.

    You have 300 pages. That's great! Is the story finished? Have you finished others? That's the big thing. Everything else is details. Endless, grinding, elusive, but details nonetheless. If it's not finished, just press on. Pour out the purple. That can all be cleaned up in the edit. But first, you need something to edit!

    And for inspiration, read the purple writers. Say, that'd be a great thread. I'm going to go off and start one. Except don't think of it as purple prose, think of it as poetic. I have in mind people like Mervyn Peake or Edgar Rice Burroughs or even Josiah Bancroft. There are masters you can learn from, amigo.
     
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  5. Jerry

    Jerry Scribe

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    Awesomeness... Off to the thread!
     
  6. Ned Marcus

    Ned Marcus Minstrel

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    Actually, I quite liked the atmosphere of this description, but I agree with Skip about the clouds imagery. It didn't really work for me either. Taking out some of the adjectives might help, but this was a descriptive scene. Do you use adjectives to the same extent in action or dialogue? If you do, then it would probably be too much for me.
     
    Jerry likes this.
  7. Jerry

    Jerry Scribe

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    Yea... I don’t know what it is. Instead of just describing, showing, or simply telling if I must... I go back and reread and find a host of adjectives cluttering my work. But thanks for the kind words. The cloud thing as mentioned I added back in, even before I posted it here... as I wanted to show where my weaknesses where. I know it didn’t fit and should have left it be... and the same problem with adjectives. I go back and read pages and pages and it’s just too much of all that poetic prose. I want to head that way, but at the same time, I think it’s been overkill. Other times, I’m fine with it. I’m so confused with my approach that doubt has strongly taken over now. I like what Slip said in their offshoot post on purple prose. I know I’m highly influenced by Robert Howard and Shakespeare and perhaps too much. Even biblical script, though I’m not religious by any means, but parables and allegorical poetic prose always intrigued me. I went back last night and reread some of the authors who inspired me to start writing. One of them being Clive Barker. I reread The Hellbound Heart and recalled why I liked his style so much. And not very purple that’s for sure. And so many others that inspired me too.

    So, I’m rereading fiction again and trying to reprogram my brain into becoming a better writer. I wish I could find a class to workshop with a teacher, but there’s nothing available my way at this time. Most workshops on fiction writing are all about structure or character development, etc... and that’s good, but I’ve yet to find a workshop just on the art of writing... putting words to the page and not focus on outlining and all the stages of writing. I did hire a professional author once to read my story, and while he admired the work, I was surprised he didn’t mention the adjective or over-prose thing. I think he simply edited the work and not the approach. He did catch a few things I never saw and helped me repair some issues for which I was grateful, so in the end, but I wish I could find a school like that in the sense, a teacher or support who can help me get words right. Maybe I am already. I don’t know I guess until I get it edited again I suppose.

    Thanks both of you for taking the time to work with me through this. I’m utterly frustrated. Aren’t we all. I get it. But... I’m frightened I don’t have what it takes. Don’t know if I’ll write again, but we’ll see...
     
    Ned Marcus likes this.
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    >... don't have what it takes.
    So, I gotta ask, what does it take to have what it takes? That is, how are you defining "what it takes" for yourself?
     
  9. Jerry

    Jerry Scribe

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    It’s not hating a rough or first draft, an idea, or structure... it’s application. I understand the editing process, and issues can be resolved, but if I’m stuck in writing a certain way and keep falling into them time and again, I’ll just edit over something and make it worse. Out the pan and into the fryer it seems for me. I’ve given you, perhaps in my opinion honestly, one of my thinnest of examples above. And I don’t believe it was fleshed out and I even added where I shouldn’t have. But I wanted to share that example and expose that weakness. Perhaps I can share a more refined stage from another chapter, which of course, would still be a WIP, but at least worked on a bit. And hence, the problem. If I were a sculptor, I would keep chipping away, molding at the stone finding new discoveries, new looks, until I chipped away at the entire stone to leave nothing because of doubt or I feel it could be better. I suppose it’s simply an artist feeling doubt, insecure, or hoping it can be better and I just want it to be recognizable as something rather than a crumbled mess. 300 pages and yes, I wonder... will it work? Do I have what it takes to feel good about what I’m doing. I’m simply hoping I have what it takes to get the words right so it reads. I know editors and really good people as yourself won’t hold back and tell like it is and that’s what I need, and I appreciate that because I miss so much. Maybe that’s all it is. The editing stage, but I should be beyond that now, at least in being able to put words down at least coherently and not incoherently as I feel I am. I should at least make sense in my ‘poetry.’ It’s a way I want to express myself and I don’t want to frustrate an audience, much less myself needlessly. Even if a word of it may never be read by a soul, I want to be happy knowing I’ve created a poetic, coherent work that is meaningful, educational, and entertaining. The art of a writer. Do I have that in me...
     
  10. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

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    This sample doesn’t seem all that off to me. Sure, there’s a purple haze, but outside of a couple of points as Mr. Knox pointed out, I’m not blinded by it. Otherwise, the feel of the passage is good. I’d be more apt to keep reading this than a whole lot of sample pages you find on Amazon, LOL.

    I’ve never paid much attention to whether my writing blushes purple, so long as it can be understood. The biggest problem with purple, IMO, is how vague it tends to get. The best poetry is concise in its imagery.

    Devouring stillness I am down with... Breadth of despair and bitter beauty begins to layer on the vague, and I start asking what the hell does that mean? What’s despairing? What’s beautiful? Sooty bellies... eee, I’d say soot-gray bellies because to me sooty says dirty... are the clouds dirty?

    But this also from over-anazlysis, LOL.

    Find your balance, your writing feels solid.
     
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  11. Jerry

    Jerry Scribe

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    Thank you for you response. Appreciate it! I’m trying... Very thankful for all your insight and helpful words. I guess I should just be more patient with myself and less harsh. Yet still, I question. I’ll find the balance.
     
  12. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

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    I don’t necessarily believe in being nice to yourself either, LOL. I’ve met people who love their horrible writing, and other people who hated their very good writing... If you have to be in one camp, the latter is preferred, heh heh.
     
  13. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

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    So this is a very old thread, but I just wanted to give you a vote of confidence. Yes it is purple and flowery and sometimes a bit far out there, but a lot of that is you playing with your voice. Some writers are poetic and flowery. Others are more crisp and to the point. Both are great.

    When you are finding your own voice it can be easy to think "This is what fantasy is supposed to sound like".... and you try to write like that.

    But in the words of Frigga from Avengers: End Game:

    "Everyone fails at who they are supposed to be, Thor. The true measure of a person, of a hero, is how well you succeed at being who you are."

    The same goes for writing. If you are reading your stuff and you are not liking what you see, it is likely because there is a nagging feeling that you are writing what you think you are "supposed" to be writing, but your inner self says "No! That's not me!"

    Or, it could be vice versa. You are reading it and thinking, "That is not what it is supposed to sound like." But hey, if that is your voice than that is cool. Do you, man.

    So here is my advice. When you sit down to write, write like you are telling yourself (or someone else) the story. Use as plain of language as you would use if you were around a camp fire or having coffee with a real person. If the odd purple thing comes up, don't judge it. Just let it be.

    But above all, try to write using your own voice.
     
  14. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

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    I definitely write flowery the way you do. It's okay so long as you have an entertaining story to tell. Some readers will like it and others will not.
     
  15. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Staff Leadership

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    We can get a bit flowery from time to time and enjoy a little literary gymnastics. It's just a matter of style. You do you and the readers will follow.
     
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  16. CelestialGrace

    CelestialGrace Dreamer

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    I write a bit of everything. Some of my writing has a deliberate flowery quality to it, because I enjoy writing; I enjoy words, word play etc. So some pieces I will revel in that love of words. Even if you've been writing for years there is still a lot of trial and error to find what works, and what doesn't. It takes time to find your authentic voice. And one of the ways to do that is to play around. Have fun. Try something new. If you were writing an academic piece, or a fast moving action piece, the purple prose probably wouldn't suit. But there's a lot that suits that style.

    I tend to just pour out the basics for my initial draft (bullet points etc), and then as I go along I will often sprinkle the adjectives around like it's faerie dust. The key is to balance it out - paragraph, upon paragraph of purple prose can be too much to wade through ... so balance it with a bit of action, a conversation.

    300 pages of a draft is more than a lot of people have. I'm a firm believer in writing crap and then editing the hell out of it. Whatever it takes to get that initial story down. Most of us aren't going to sitdown at our computer or typewriter etc and just get the story out in a linear fashion perfectly. So don't beat yourself up so much ... even if it does often come with the job. And have some fun with it :)
     
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