Friday, September 11, 2009

Day 32

Today is September 11. I'd like to take this opportunity to observe the day. Some of the darkest moments of the country, also some of the brightest. I hope everyone remembers what that day means, and how the American people rose above adversity and banded together. And how soon we all forget we are AMERICANS.

Let the stupid bickering and hatefulness stop!

Hug everyone you love. Say thanks to everyone in uniform. Remember September 11.

*****


A reviewer once called my writing "purple."

There's, of course, a bad connotation with "purple prose," thanks to the annual Bulwer-Lytton contest. But what exact is it, and what does it mean? I only thought the reviewer didn't particularly care for my style, which some of my readers called "poetic" or "lyrical" (and they liked it).

Michael Chabon has been called the King of Purple. And he's won a Pulitzer. So who knows? :shrug: Personally, I think some people are just envious of his talent and fantastic way with words.

And I like writer James MacDonald's definition: Purple prose is a cross between red prose and blue prose.

To me, there's only bad prose and good prose. And even that is a judgment call. Art is subjective. Even the ability to communicate, which is in essence the fundamental purpose of writing, is subjected to interpretation. I mean, I don't understand a third of the poetry I read -- have no idea what they really mean -- but they're art. So who am I to say it's not well written?

But there are always some guidelines, some standards, somewhere. To me, the following is bad prose (maybe it's just a standard I set for myself):

He went to school. He put his backpack in the locker. He went to the classroom. He closed the door. He forgot to bring his books. He went back out in the hallway. He bumped into Mrs. Hall. He apologized. She said okay.

I don't know about you, but I don't think I can read something like that. Every sentence is perfectly, grammatically fine. Technically they are correct. But are they well-crafted? What does that mean anyway? Is there some kind of measurement we can use to gauge if something is "well-written"? I can only tell you that I don't think the passage above is well-written, and I would not want to read it. If you do, be my guest.

So how about this, which some people would consider "purple":

Folks say that if you listen real close at the height of the full moon, when the wind is blowin' off Nantucket Sound from the nor' east and the dogs are howlin' for no earthly reason, you can hear the awful screams of the crew of the “Ellie May," a sturdy whaler Captained by John McTavish; for it was on just such a night when the rum was flowin' and, Davey Jones be damned, big John brought his men on deck for the first of several screaming contests.
(David McKenzie, winner of the 2009 Bulwer-Lytton Contest)

Again, what is wrong with the passage? Every word seems to be correct. The grammar is sound. Of course, I have no idea what is being conveyed, but is that the definition of "purple prose"? Why is it so bad that it's good? What did Mr. McKenzie do that most self-respecting writers won't?

I'm not sure.

How about some honest to goodness "good" purple prose I personally enjoy:

Tired of Maggie Thatcher, her hedgehog eyes, her vacuous hair, her cotton-mouthed edicts on jobs, on taxes, on terrorist acts. Tired of bickering over the Chunnel, over untapped oil off the Isle of Mull. Tired of rainy foggy pewtered skies. Here, too, there are clouds, but they are inconsequential, each one benign as a bridal veil. And wind, but the wind is warm, making a cheerful fuss of the awning over the tables, carrying loose napkins like birds to the edge of the harbor against the hulls of fishing boats.

Wow, such long, run-on sentences. The overload of adjectives. And yet I'm captivated by this message. So rich and succinct. Are they purple? Possibly. Are they magnificent? I think so (although I object to the word "pewtered" which verbifies a noun. But then again, I just did with the noun "verb").




200 words, 14900 words total
333 days and 170600 words to go

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