“It was a dark and stormy night and the rain came down in torrents”. It’s a quote, famous now, of what is often called “overwriting”.
Purple prose is another name for it. It’s all about falling in love with your own words to such an extent that the actual story you’re writing gets lost. It’s heavy on adjectives and adverbs that describe the minutest detail of the scene.
To add to the ugly picture it often includes cliches. “She cried out aloud in her agony, sobbing and wailing with the incredible pain of her broken heart.” All right, we get it, she was a bit upset.
Maybe think twice before you write ‘broken heart’. I don’t think you can actually break a heart but in literature it’s been done thousands of times. It’s old. It has had its day. If your male lead jilts his bride on the morning of the wedding give her unique emotions. Poor girl, she deserves at least that.
When did you experience a deep, wrenching sorrow? Dig deep into your memory of that and find your own words for the feelings. You don’t have to find a whole lot of them. You don’t need paragraph after paragraph of unremitting grief. You just need a few very carefully chosen words, straight from your heart to hers.
The trend today is to shorter stories. Flash fiction, they’re called. Whole plots, complete with dynamic characters and action – all in 500, 800, or 1000 words. What gets cut to the bone to make stories work in such a short format? Description. Rambling on. Delving extensively into emotions that could have been summed up in a couple of sentences.
Watch your writing for extravagant, flowery description – the part where you got all carried away with the beauty of the scenery or his tender touch making her bosom heave with passion. Can’t you see the reader’s eyes rolling?
Have you heard the expression “You can’t see the forest for the trees”? With writing sometimes you can’t see the story for the words. If the words get in the way they are not serving your purpose as a story teller. Get rid of them.
Look for adjectives and adverbs. Adjectives enhance nouns and adverbs enhance verbs. If you choose an accurate noun you shouldn’t need much in the way of adjectives. “A tall building” is better described as a skyscraper.
Adverbs, which quite often end in ‘ly’ are even more suspect. Our language is rich in verbs. Use a thesaurus to find the exact verb and you won’t need an adverb.
Especially watch out for adverbs after ‘he said’ or ‘she said’.
“Oh, my darling,” she said huskily… well either the girl has a cold or she needs to be doing something better than saying huskily. She might whisper, breathe or outright moan. Your choice. But your verb needs to point out clearly that she isn’t just ordering potatoes.
The verb carries the action. A strong verb can usually carry the action all by itself, it doesn’t need a wimpy little adverb tagging along.