As I’ve been scrolling through posts in the many writing groups I frequent I’ve been seeing a LOT of purple prose. Purple prose is the enemy of pacing, and it must be eradicated from your writing habits if you are going to become a better writer than you are now.
Purple prose is also known as overwriting. In essence, you are writing long paragraphs about nothing. This excess fluff is the death of pace and means you, the writer, are not contributing anything to your story. If you are spending long paragraphs describing your characters, the scenery, or actions that do not drive the story then you are probably going purple.
If your writing takes a paragraph to say two words you are not in good territory. Shakespeare can be quoted as saying, “Brevity is the soul of wit,” and this is the truth. Do not use eleven words to say one. Do not two words to say one. Use that single word, and make it count for something and mean something. It’s easy to write a thousand words of fluff with no meaning and no pace; it’s hard to write a thousand words that MATTER.
Your story should move at a good speed. If you have long scenes where characters aren’t doing anything to progress the plot or their own development axe those scenes with ruthlessness befitting a Mongol warlord. Do not cling to those scenes and words because, despite your hopes, they are NOT gold. Do not linger over phrases just because you like them; if they do not serve your story highlight them and hit “delete”.
As master storyteller Stephen King says, “Kill your darlings.” He is not talking so much about characters when he says this as he is talking about your prose. Don’t get so attached to a scene or a character or a phrase that – should it be necessary – you cannot carve it from your work and leave it on the editorial floor. This will always be painful, but it is important to your work to be able to let go of things that do not improve the integrity of the piece.
Pacing is one of the most difficult things to perfect in writing, but – much like pornography – you know it when you see it. The gray area becomes clear, and you can tell when you’ve hit a good stride because the story leaps off the page. You can read a whole book in an afternoon and not know where the time went because the pace grabbed you by the shorthairs and would not let you go.
If you can create a story with good pacing you are on your way to becoming a strong writer. And good pacing means letting go of the fluff. You don’t need those flowery lines of description everywhere (though keeping a few is okay); you don’t need those adverbs and adjectives or those laundry list descriptions of characters and locations; and you don’t need those scenes where nothing gets done. Cut it all out and get to the raw, beating heart of your story. Once you’re there, grab that heart and don’t let go.