Common Errors in Fiction Manuscripts, Part 4

Purple Prose
I’m guilty of this, I have to admit. I love words. I love language. Sometimes I get so carried away with descriptors I forget about advancing the plot, and sharpening prose to a keen edge.

So, when I go back to a piece some weeks or months after writing the first draft, I set aside my love affair with the story and words, and become the clinician.

There is one rule: Use one precise word instead of many lush words.

The result? A sentence or passage of such clarity it incises an image into a reader’s imagination.

For example:

Completing another chapter, the eleven-year-old bibliophile gracefully stood and, with the air of a young nobleman, strode across the library to a second reading chair perched comfortably before a tall, gothic-style window.

All kinds of wrong with that sentence. Is the age of the boy necessary? Or can that information be inferred through action and thought? The use of the word ‘bibliophile’ arrests the narrative. Personally, I love that word, but it’s a bit antiquated for the targeted audience, and isn’t particularly communicative. The description of the boy’s grace when standing creates a cool and distant omniscient point of view that alienates the reader from the character. And besides, is it necessary to know he has grace when standing? Does this reflect upon his character or in any manner advance the plot? The phrase ‘with the air of a young nobleman’ is redundant on so many levels, let alone irrelevant and ridiculous in its assumption that young noblemen are inherently graceful. Then we have a perching chair. Chairs do not perch. People do. And further a chair can’t be perched comfortably. A chair has no feelings and so the concept of it having comfort, unless we’re dealing with something out of Terry Pratchett’s imagination, is ridiculous. The tall, gothic-style window is known as a lancet window; however, is it necessary to the plot to know the exact architectural description of said window?

Rewritten, the sentence could read:

When he finished the chapter, he crossed to the chair by the window.

Comments? Questions? We’d love to hear from you.

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