“P” is for pretty/purple prose
Purple prose: prose text that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself. Purple prose is characterized by the extensive use of adjectives, adverbs, zombie nouns, and metaphors.
I get lost in physical description. Some writers can describe trees in a poetic way, but I’m like, “Uh…it looks like a tree. With leaves. And bark. It’s tall and stuff. The leaves are green. OH! And there are branches because, you know, it’s a tree.”
Characters are worse. Some writers use purple prose to detail every aspect of their characters: her heart-shaped face (what kind of heart? a Valentine-type heart or an actual heart? because one is kind of awkward and the other is something I’ve never seen a person’s head shaped like), long tresses that flowed like a waterfall down her slender shoulders (so her hair is crushing her shoulders? yikes), azure eyes that dazzled like the ocean under a rising sun (what if I’ve never seen the ocean? are people’s eyes really azure?)…
I’ll never write purple prose. Why? Because when I read it, I blank out. Even if I get through (I usually have to reread), I forget it. It’s overwhelming, so my brain detaches. I skim.
WORK IT IN TO THE STORY!
I’m kind of a minimalist. For being a writer, I’m probably too visual. I can see it, but I can’t make words of it. I’m working on describing settings better, but no one will ever picture my characters exactly as I do, even if I describe them in detail. Mas is dirty blond; people still picture him dark-haired. So what? Even my narrators don’t see others the same way. Rab notices a man’s build before anything else about him, instinctively calculating how much of a threat he is. Ari tends to focus on eyes, drawn to the feature that gives away her mother’s moods the most. If both girls saw the same things in people, I’d lose that subtle difference.
Neither girl overtly states whether her respective love interest is attractive, handsome, or whatever else. Those are throwaway words. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I prefer to show attraction through interaction. (Though the last hopefully shows disgust.)
~Heat washed across my face and down my neck, once again leaving me acutely aware of the low neckline of the tunic. It wasn’t anywhere near as low as some of the girls I’d seen flitting about, but it was lower than I was used to. I tugged at it, wishing once again that it didn’t show so much skin. His gaze dropped to follow the movement, his lips parting, and I jumped at the opportunity to look away, drawing my hands inside my sleeves.
~ His eyes returned to mine and held for a moment before gliding over my lips and toward my chest. His grip tightened on my waist, his thumb edging higher up my side. My mind zeroed in on the pressure of his touch, something between confusion and delight flushing through me.
~Without a word, he grabbed a few bowls, balancing them in the crook of his arm. My eyes traced over the muscle, and I spun on my heel toward the back room.
~She grinned. “But see? He’s not old, fat, or gross, is he?”
Heat filled my cheeks. “Oh, hush.”
~He blinked once, glanced down at himself, and brushed the fingers of his right hand over his chest. Heat blazed through my face as I followed the movement, and I huffed, tearing my eyes away.
~He removed his bracers, waited for the guard to rearrange the items in his hands, and surrendered them as well. He whipped his tunic off over his head, leaving only a sleeveless black shirt behind. I winced but kept my gaze steady. Numerous tattoos dotted his right arm, one presumably for each of his ranks. He gave the tunic to Stoic Face, exchanged some words with him, and started massaging his forearms, his muscles rippling under the movement. I wrinkled my nose and swiveled my attention back to Sorek.
How about you? As a writer, how do you handle description? As a reader, what do you think of purple prose?