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Artistic Descriptions vs Detailed Ones (1 Viewer)

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EternalGreen

Senior Member
"Lavender and yellow dominated the skyline. Her eyes passed over the cloudy sky and road."

"The walls were painted yellow and lavender. The streets were paved with packed grey stones. It was an overcast afternoon."

The first is an attempt to show how a character feels. I was thinking "a happier past". It is an attempt at showing a "pleasurable object of focus" in someone's memory. (Yes, I know it looks like some cheap painting from TJ Maxx with the whole "emphasize color" thing going on, but bare with me here.)

The second just tells you what's there.

I understand that no one reads stories just because they want to imagine something that looks like a painting. But for the sake of characterization and plot, you might need to paint imaginary picture with a certain feeling (or try to).

I think it's important to know where you're going and establish congruity with the feelings that "poetic" prose tries to create.

If, for example, in the next paragraph, I write:

"A patch of elm trees shined in a pillar of sun,"

then I have ruined the impression. Not that this is a bad sentence. But it doesn't belong near the other ones.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I've been told details are great when included. Packing artistic details in my own stories has not made my descriptions successfully work for all readers. I appreciate both styles. In the past metaphors have worked. Poetic devices can help. But when done wrongly the reader can complain. I wish I had an easy way. The most effort I put into description might have been the latest story in the workshop. But that's because I would look at pictures of for example a mosaic table. Other-wise I tend to think my description is a mixed bag. I tend to do better with places I know well. A supermarket. That's commonplace. But try to make me describe something based on a place I have never been too and I can struggle a lot. I think I need to know where things are. I may need to see a place and maybe even take pictures if possible of a place I know. That lends itself to try something that is more difficult. Because you know it like the backyard of a home.

I suspect I prefer real details and to use metaphors sparingly (but sometimes inspiration will call for it and it can add rather than detract). I am not keen or know how to use description to evoke emotion. There are writers here that do that intentionally and do it well and it is well-received. Style based on emotion is something I tend to supposedly lack.

That said despite some success which is rare when using poetic phrases (even memorizing some lines of poetry helps in this regard to add to the short story). I tend to focus on detail. I wish I had the descriptive skills of some writers. To that end I have been researching how to describe. I hope my book is the post office before this week ends. Because I feel it's difficult for me to write about places and settings that I glance on from the internet. Maybe it has good tips.

Sometimes reading poetry will give you a helpful way of reexpressing something better without many mistakes. I think the problem is sometimes poetic language is ambiguous and the metaphor or simile doesn't work for the reader. Inventing it has proven difficult. I have to feel the subject. That being said figurative language is something that can be done by reading poems and coming up with a unique interpretation of the poet's work. That imitation is the only way for me I believe to get the images done correctly.

If I tend to overload on poetic language I tend to do it wrong. That's why I only do it if sparingly.

So I guess being specific counts. Use concrete and specific nouns that can help the person picture the surroundings. So imo you can read a poem to see how others did it. Using the 5 senses helps with the pov to make a scene to be more easily pictured. A person interacting with a setting also helps.

To me a poetic style is difficult, and has tended to produce mistakes on my part.

IMO your memory and experience can help convey emotions when describing and maybe would look better to the reader than poetic language. Because sometimes I personally phrase things in a strange way when poetic.

Also, I've been told that I should read other people's writing that has been published. I basically gave up to be honest on being too poetic when I write my stories. I think of using poetic language in moderation. I use to try that a lot.
 
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Joker

Senior Member
Two things to consider:

1. It should be in proportion to how important the location is and

2. It matters how flowery the POV character is likely to be, in first person stories. I wouldn't expect something overwrought and poetic in a noir.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Good post. The first shows the exact same stuff as the second, but with a sheen of voice and personality over it, bedding us into the perceiving character's mind. That character could just as easily be an omni narrator; the trick is to give them a personality as they go about observing the beauty of their world and solving plot points.
 

Tettsuo

WF Veterans
Depends on who the narrator is. In The Color Purple, the narration is based on the education of the person who wrote the letters. In Flowers for Algernon, the main character begins as a functional illiterate, and the descriptions reflect it, until it does as his intelligence increases. So, if the narrator is prone flowery types of description, that'll will be the shape of the writing.

Now with that out of the way, no, I don't think purple prose works long term. It becomes overwhelming the more you do it. Having moments of it is far more effective then a novel filled with it. Even in literary fiction, too much purple prose begins to wear on the reader.

If you have to translate every sentence, you're not absorbed in the story.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
"Lavender and yellow dominated the skyline. Her eyes passed over the cloudy roads and sky," is definitely not purple prose.

"Lavender and yellow buildings emphasized themselves like memories in a depressing June. Her eyes skirted wayward around the imperceptible clouds and roads, both a uniform hue of melancholy at arm's reach," is purple prose. (And I fucking hate it.)

I prefer writing in third person omniscient with touches of purple and poetic language, but being concise, coherent, and compact come first.
 

Terra

Senior Member
Balance is key to maintaining a flow of poetic imagery and specific details so the reader’s interest is held. I struggle to bring in details to my writings because I find that sort of ‘language’ to be boring and flat, but after I read a first draft of something I’ve written, I want to gag because of how surgery the descriptions are. It’s truly an exercise for me to find that balance.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Some abhor florid/purple prose and want it completely absent in their writing and reading material. IMO, it has it's place - and in small doses it adds to the story.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
Balance is key to maintaining a flow of poetic imagery and specific details so the reader’s interest is held. I struggle to bring in details to my writings because I find that sort of ‘language’ to be boring and flat, but after I read a first draft of something I’ve written, I want to gag because of how surgery the descriptions are. It’s truly an exercise for me to find that balance.

Well that's fine! A great artist I know paints abstract images from photographs she took.
 

Joker

Senior Member
Some abhor florid/purple prose and want it completely absent in their writing and reading material. IMO, it has it's place - and in small doses it adds to the story.

Keyword being small doses.

I just DNFed 20% of the way through the first Fafhrd and the Mouser book and thought of this thread.

Nothing is poetic if you make everything poetic.
 

indianroads

Staff member
Global Moderator
Keyword being small doses.

I just DNFed 20% of the way through the first Fafhrd and the Mouser book and thought of this thread.

Nothing is poetic if you make everything poetic.

For me, florid/purple prose is more about mood than description.
 

EternalGreen

Senior Member
Purple prose works for some people. No, it won't make you a massively popular, best-selling author, but who gets into writing just for that?
 
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