Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

untitledOver the past few months, I’ve been focusing on word use. Are the words necessary or just taking up space in my work? My blogs usually relate to what I’m working on at the time they are being written. I like to think if I’m having questions about an aspect of writing, you are too.  The following blog is an older one I wrote a few years ago, but it is still relevant, and I figure a refresher is good for myself and you.

I ran into this question while doing some research this past week, and it made me stop and think. Is my prose to beautiful? In my case, I would say no. I never grasped that concept. I have to admit I’ve tried.

The most famous rule in the bible of writing hints, The Elements of Style, is “Omit Needless Words.” This should be the hallmark of every writer.

Some authors believe good language should be showy. However, using unnecessary words in an effort to be literary or write more beautifully, is a common error first-time authors make.

George Simenon, a Belgian author, once pointed to a sentence and said: “That’s a beautiful sentence, cut it.”

He explained: “When you come across such a gorgeous sentence in a paragraph, it stands out and disrupts the even tone of your narrative. It’s as if you’ve paved a road and had a rose bush spurt up in the center. It’s beautiful, but it doesn’t belong there and it impedes the flow of the narrative.”

This overuse of description can also bog down a narrative and make it more difficult for a reader to quickly grasp the meaning.

Jerry Jenkins calls it written-ese. It’s a special language we use when we forget to Just Say It.

He provided the following example from a beginner’s work he was editing. I know I’ve used this example in several blog posts, but it is such a good one.

“The fire drop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”

Now that was a pretty sentence, but you can’t tell me it didn’t slow you down and make you think about what the author was actually trying to say. If you are like me, you had to read it several times. That’s written-ese.

I’m not saying you can’t use description. Description is good and helps your reader visualize characters, settings and much more. But it should be used sparingly. It should add to and enhance your sentence, not distract and overtake it.

Trying to impress others with your words is not the way to go. Be natural, be yourself, and it would probably help if you closed the thesaurus as well 🙂

Something to think about 🙂

-Jan R

Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

2 thoughts on “Is Your Prose Too Beautiful?

  1. Do you have any advice for writers who often find that “Be natural, be yourself” is incompatable with “Don’t use big/fancy words”? (What I consider to be “big” words may be perfectly ordinary for some other writer… and Grammarly says ordinary is “too big” a word for use in a story written for adult readers. *shrug* Different standards, y’know?)

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    1. I’ve read in the past that writing should be kept at a 5th grade level. That’s a little condescending to me and I would think you, but the gist is keep it on a level that everyone can understand. If a person has to stop and look a word up or rely on the complete sentence to extrapolate what you are saying, it is probably too fancy. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

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