Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Writers of the Purple Prose, Your Place or Mine? That's Not Funny.

purple prose--a condition resident in text when the writer mistakes emotion-descriptive words with words that imply or infer emotion; an excessive romanticizing or sentimentalizing description; an operatic display of metaphor, simile and stylistic flourish, executed by the writer in the belief that a love of words and the language is an acceptable excuse; excessive display of language. Musicians love notes. Artists love paint or water color. Sculptors love their media. Such affection earns the user a ticket to the bleachers. (See Waxing rhapsodic)

It is a given that writers like their work; the proof of the liking is in the demonstrable chemistry between characters, story, movement of story, and resolution, a chemistry that produces at least entertainment but in some cases such qualities as solutions to moral problems, revelation of unexamined aspects of human behavior, and a sense of how to get along with other humans on the only known habitable planet.

Every writer who has found individual voice will have a well-stocked list of works in which the prose is purple. Accordingly, find yours, to use as insurance against linguistic offense.

parody--the use of ridicule, exaggeration, and ironic imitation to undercut the intent and relevance of a work of art; the use of broad, comedic imitation to make fun of a literary work and/or its creator. Parody is in effect a weapon fired at close range; the most important result is the identification by the reader of the work and/or the creator. The target often provides the name of the parody. A noted American parodist and satirist, Peter De Vries, took on William Faulkner's often convoluted prose with a parody, "Requiem for a Noun." The English parodist and humorist, Digby Wolfe, took on a well-known popular song by adding a mere coma to its title, "What is this thing called, Love?" Some instances of parody were so successful that they outlived the work and creator of which they attacked, a notable example from history being John Dryden's "MacFlecknoe," used to parody the poet Thomas Shadwell, and his work. In contemporary times, the newspaper and web site, The Onion, parodies politicians and political news by exaggerating their seriousness and thus reducing the target to ridicule.

As with satire, parody is an invitation for the reader to collude with the writer against a target. Unlike satire, parody rarely goes unrecognized, does not offer so much a solution to the individual, work, or convention as a parting shot to the head. Some writers who refuse to take on new artistic and thematic challenges with subsequent work emerge as unintentionally making fun of, parodying, themselves. Let the writer beware.

alternate universe--a concept in fantasy, science fiction, and speculative fiction genera in which another universe than the one we inhabit exists, is visited or may be visited by individuals from this universe. The laws of physical behavior may be the same in both universes or they may, at the author's whim, be entirely different, as may be the histories. An alternate universe could then theoretically exist in which the Secessionist States won the American Civil War, The Axis won World War II, and the atom bombs were dropped on Cleveland and Pittsburgh rather than Hiroshima and Nagasaki. A prime example of the concept at work is found in Philip Pullman's His Dark Mysteries series, in which two young protagonists move back and forth between parallel worlds; a more classic science fiction from the Golden Era, Frederick Brown's What Mad Universe, features a science fiction editor who is thrown into an alternate universe constructed by a teen-aged letter writer, and in addition to C.S. Lewis' well-liked Chronicles of Narnia series in which children transport from this world to another populated by animals, there is also Lewis's short story, "The Shoddy Lands," in which the reader is transported to the "alternate worlds" of the minds of other individuals.

In most alternate universe stories, there is some portal through which characters move from point A to point B, not the least of these portals the rabbit hole through which Alice fell or the eye of the tornado through which Dorothy Gale was transported to Oz.

There is an extensive AU literature from which to chose, including the highly skilled work of Stephen King as well as many of the first- and second generation science fiction/fantasy writers, offering twists of humor, politics, psychology, and terror. In a broader sense, reading at least one such work in this category will help the writer ratify the notion that all fiction is alternate universe, each story being a particular writer's landscape and world view, his or her characters emerging to work out problems that effect their sense of individuality and their individual sense of conscience.


Anonymous said...

Well, you just made a transition scene in my novel clear to me. More accurately maybe I should say as transportation scene. But thanks--if I now I can actually write it.

Lori Witzel said...

"The English parodist and humorist, Digby Wolfe, took on a well-known popular song by adding a mere coma to its title, 'What is this thing called, Love?'"

And of course I read the typo while waiting in a hospital.

If I were waiting in a birthing center, I would think of the coma/comma as a mere pregnant pause.


And how terrific -- the word verif is "soper"...soperific!

lowenkopf said...

High school grammar used to bug me with all those coma splices.