Diamond Jubilee at Romance at Random

"The gift of fantasy has meant more to me than my talent for absorbing positive knowledge." Albert Einstein




Wednesday, March 30, 2011

My Favorite Color Is Purple


A few months ago a writer friend of mine told me that she thought she might be ruined forever to reading because of her writing. I thought I understood what she meant, but I don’t think I really did at the time. Now I do.

We, as writers, can get so bogged down with style and craft issues that the actual power of our words can be forgotten. I’m not saying toss every rule aside, but I am saying don’t lose the passion of the words just to fit inside a stylistic box. It’s great to have guidelines – not hard and fast rules. Writing is still an art, first and foremost. If you never practice with words considered purple, how can you ever learn to use them well?

I came across this passage last week, and it struck me for two reasons: The first is that the power of the words gave me chills. The second is that if this had gone to an editor in today’s publishing world, it would have most likely been edited out in the first round.

Do yourself a favor and read this passage out loud:


The castle of Cair Paravel on its little hill towered up above them; before them were the sands, with rocks and little pools of salt water, and seaweed, and the smell of the sea and long miles of bluish-green waves breaking forever and ever on the beach. And oh, the cry of the seagulls! Have you heard it? Can you remember?


The first sentence would not only be criticized as too long but would be labeled as “purple.” And dear God, the POV police would lock the author in prison and throw away the key for the last two sentences. When I read this out loud, I get tears in my eyes. I don’t have to know why they are on a beach or what the GMC is. I don’t care that the second independent clause is passive voice or that the author broke out of third-person past to address the reader directly. I only have to close my eyes to see the beach, smell the briny sea, hear the lonely cry of the seagulls, and the waves washing up on the shore because I am right there with them.

In some ways I, too, am ruined to reading and in other ways my eyes are just opened to it. I don't want to get so ingrained in the mechanics of my writing that I miss the opportunity for something great – something that will give my readers chills or bring tears to their eyes. This is, after all, why I write.

This passage is from CS Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe. If you have not read it, I recommend it.

12 comments:

nicole said...

Funny, because when I read that passage I was right there on the beach with them... But then, I went back and reread it and thought of the different things you have told me about writing. I am the furthest thing from a writer.. But, I must admit That i enjoy the things I learn from you about writing, technique, style etc. Great post.

jennajaxon said...

Cool imagery, Kary. I am one of those who has not read LWW, though I saw and loved the movie. I tend to feel envious of those writers who wrote what they felt, the prose that stirred them, without the rules editors now impose on us. Unfortunately/Fortunately styles change, but passionate writers, thank God, do not. Lovely post.

D'Ann said...

I say it every time this subject comes up--you can break, bend, twist or mangle the rules--if you know them first.

Kary said...

Thanks, Nicole. I am so glad you enjoyed.

Jenna - Sometimes it is hard to follow the rules when we feel something and want to communicate it a certain way. But like a friend of mine said "Powerful writing will always find a way"

Kary said...

Good point D'Ann. Although I have to say I mangled the rules pretty good without knowing them. :)

I heard an editor say "You can do anything you want, as long as you make it work." I hold on to that.

Lisa Kumar said...

Great post, Kary! And everyone's comments have a valid point. I think writers can break the rules. We just have to know the when and where--and make judicious use, not abuse, of it. That can be the hardest part!

Kary said...

Thank you, Lisa. Knowing when and where is what separates the not-so-good from the great.
The genius of the great writers like Melville, Hemingway and of course F. Scott Fitzgerald, who I understand the phrase "Purple Prose" was coined for, is their delicate balance between mastery and abandonment of the rules.

Angie Cox said...

Eye opening post, Kary. We all learn the color wheel in 1st grade and what colors mix to make what colors, so in my eyes, writing is the same. We know verb/noun make a sentence, adjetive/adverb make it better and finally, end with a period. From there we add in feelings, and just like in life, there are no rules when it comes to those.

I have found many classics as well as newly published books don't follow some of the rules that I am learning. The books are great, and worth reading so I love the saying that every rule can be broken, if it is done for a good enough reason.

Dee Dawning said...

Hi Kary, I don't get it. What's purple about your example?

Kary said...

Angie - That is what has happened to me too. Books I've read many times have taken on new richness and significance and become new.

Dee - Exactly What is purple about it? To me there is nothing but there are some I fear who would disagree.

KeriOkie said...

I don't see anything purple about Lewis' paragraph, so I have to agree with Dee.

Anyway, you asked for fave quotes. I have tons! But I picked this one because of rule breakage (which are more like guidelines anyway). From Dreamfever by Karen Marie Moning:

"I am heat. I am need. I am pain. I am more than pain. I am agony. I am the other side of death denied the mercy of it. I am life that never should have been."

The editor left this alone because it works. Critiquers might point out the use of the pronoun I at the beginning of each sentence (she continues to break this rule for an entire chapter to great effect). What she expressed in seven sentences could have been summed up in one (considered "melodrama" by some). Moning uses the same verb in every sentence (the dreaded "to be" variation "am"). And of course, she uses another of those "to be" variations "been." And that is just the first paragraph in this section of her novel.

Moning breaks the rules, brilliantly. And that is the point of knowing the rules.

Carrie O.

Kary said...

Carrie -- I love the quote! Perfect example. Thanks for sharing.