If there’s a passage I’m overly proud of—it usually means I need to cut it. There is a big difference between a well-crafted sentence relevant to the story, and one that sounds impressive but does nothing to move the story forward. This kind of self-indulgence is referred to as purple prose: metaphor after metaphor; meandering musings that take you nowhere; more scenic descriptions than a travel guide. In other words, those parts we skim to get to the good stuff. When I find purple prose in my work, I ask myself what purpose it serves. Am I trying to prove I can be as erudite as the next person or does the prose add needed melody and cadence? Purple prose is like an exotic spice—a little goes a long way—too much and it overpowers the entire dish.
Stephen King advises writers to “Kill your darlings”. The following chapter opening in my current work in progress was one of mine:
The snow continued to fall leisurely upon the already covered ground. The world was a monochromatic blend of brown and white, as the trees rejected the complete enveloping of their branches. The massive stone building was barely visible from the road on a clear day and the snow now camouflaged its existence entirely. The towering iron gates, which surrounded the perimeter of the property, served as a deterrent for even the most curious but in the event they were not, land mines were strategically placed amid the acreage to render the uninvited eternally remorseful for their trespassing.
This is how it reads now:
The limousine stopped at the entrance and his driver walked around to open his door for him. He looked around in admiration at the elaborate massive stone building he had commissioned. The towering iron gates, which surrounded the perimeter of the property, served as a deterrent for even the most curious but in the event they were not, land mines were strategically placed amid the acreage. Guards were stationed in towers and twenty-four-hour video surveillance ensured that he, the man known only as The Maestro, was informed of all goings on at all times. He was eager to get back to work.
The first example is missing a key ingredient—a point of view. There is no one for the reader to relate to—nothing to wonder about.
I want my writing to compel my readers to turn the page because they care about the characters and are interested in the story. I would much rather entertain than impress.