Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Purple Prose

‘Bout damn time I posted this blog, huh?

Recently, I’ve received several questions about purple prose. What exactly is it and why is it bad?

First, google it. I’m not your primer.

Umm…ok…don’t look at me like that.

Fine! I give!

To quote wikipedia…

A term of literary criticism, purple prose is used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensuously evocative beyond the requirements of its context. It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a reader's response.


Hear that? That’s the last sentence flying over everyone’s head. Basically, Purple Prose means something’s been written with such language that the focus becomes the language and not the story. It also means that you’re cheating. You’re trying to manipulate the reader via artificial means—the language itself. And it doesn’t work. It falls flat just like over using an exclamation mark. If you haven’t built the surprise, excitement or anger by the end of the sentence, a simple ! won’t do it for you.

Essentially, if you have someone “lapping the sweet nectar” from someone’s “petals” or “vessel”, then you’re purple. Lapping nectar from petals? WTF are your characters doing? Drinking honey out of tulips?

Sometimes it’s not so obvious. Every erotica writer out there has a phrase or two that they don’t consider Purple Prose, but someone else will. The beauty and challenge of this is how to have something throb, but not have it throb in a throbbing, bulging purple way. That’s a balance every writer must find for themselves.

Often purple prose is confused with juvenile euphemisms.

In a piece of *published* fiction, I read a blowjob described as “vacuuming the tube”. If you’re vacuuming anyone’s “tube” then you’re dang close to needing an ER. Keep the “one-eyed wonder snakes” and “heat-seeking missiles” and all that other stuff in junior high, please. And whatever you do, do NOT, repeat that, DO NOT “take the axe to the beaver” unless your character is killing wildlife. If you have a character who has a “tallywacker” or “winkie” or anything like that, then they ARE NOT old enough to be in a sex scene.

Usually at this point people start asking, “Well, fine, but which words can you use?”

And that’s when I say, “Try writing erotica later. Ya know, after you can say the word ‘cock’ without blushing.”

Fine! I’ll answer the question.

You won’t like the answer.

Seriously, you won’t.

I can’t give you a list of words you can use. That differs from character to character. In “About to Sin” Dr. Anand Singh is perfectly comfortable using “cock”, “dick”, “prick”, “cum”, “jizz” and if he drinks enough, he might let go with “splooge.” If he’s feeling a bit influenced by Father Daniel, then he might use “seed” or “essence”, but those will be rare.

In “Full Circle” Kendrick is comfortable with “cock” and “seed” and a few of the more highbrow words. I fought with my editor (she won) and I put in a few others that stretched his character a bit. *shakes fist at word echoes*

Kendrick doesn’t cuss, normally. There’re one or two spots where he drops a curse word and one of those was for comedic effect.

Anand can rival the crassest sailors and probably cusses too much. (Kind of like me when I’m drunk. I once made an entire sentence with the word “fuck.”)

Father Daniel, as paranoid as he is with all things sexual, probably wouldn’t even use the word “penis.” Bless his heart, that man is so screwed up. If I ever have to write his POV for a sex scene, I expect that I’ll be using the words “down there” a lot.

Speaking of “penis”, I firmly believe that word should stay in a clinical setting along with “anus”. Anything that conjures the pictures from a high school health textbook, should be avoided. Some writers use those words and that’s their call.

“Entrance” – that’s my generic orifice word. “Asshole” feels like an insult to me. I know “entrance” toys with the purple line, but I’m digging my heels in here. And before you call me a hypocrite, yes, I admit, Anand did use “asshole”, but he’s Anand and that’s different. He also used the word “entrance” so bite me.

All in all, this shouldn’t be the focus of an erotica writer’s concern. If you’re running through these words then you’re writing what we call “insert tab A into slot B” sex scene.

Listen to me.

Listen hard.

Take this to heart.

Your readers know how to have sex.

Let’s say that again and repeat after me.

“My readers know how to have sex.”

They don’t need a lesson from fiction. Give enough to allow the reader to visualize the scene, but focus on the feelings and meaning of sex for the characters. Readers know what goes where, but what they don’t know is what this means for Character Name. Focus on the beauty of the moment. Let your characters feel, be and enjoy instead of just pushing and pulling.

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