Long, flowing prose, made up of the perfect words placed in melodic paragraphs, can be a pleasure to write, and even (occasionally) a pleasure to read. But the danger is that you’ll become mired in a swamp of indulgent vocabulary and wet spaghetti sentences. Complex doesn’t mean convoluted.
William Faulkner’s Barn Burning:
The store in which the justice of the Peace's court was sitting smelled of cheese. The boy, crouched on his nail keg at the back of the crowded room, knew he smelled cheese, and more: from where he sat he could see the ranked shelves close-packed with the solid, squat, dynamic shapes of tin cans whose labels his stomach read, not from the lettering which meant nothing to his mind but from the scarlet devils and the silver curve of fish - this, the cheese which he knew he smelled and the hermetic meat which his intestines believed he smelled coming in intermittent gusts momentary and brief between the other constant one, the smell and sense just a little of fear because mostly of despair and grief, the old fierce pull of blood.
You might think, Golly gee (which is how I imagine you talk) this is a wonderful description of a room, a town store that is being used as a makeshift courtroom, you can almost feel you’re there, and what a masterful job of realisation of a setting. Scene setting at its most vivid. And you would be wrong.
No doubt the language is masterful and it is a pleasure to read in and of itself. But this isn’t a description of a room, this is a description of what it’s like to see the world through the eyes of the boy in the story. This is characterisation.
If you write a long rambling description like this without understanding that, you will most likely get people telling you your prose is too purple, the descriptions too ornate. And you might think, Puh! Some people don’t appreciate literary fiction like what I does. And again the mistake would be yours, not theirs.
It is easy to get distracted by the pretty words and their sing-song poetry, but what a reader finds appealing on the surface can belie the ramrod construction underpinning the flashy stuff. You may read the excerpt above and you may not understand what he’s going on about, you just know you like it. You’d like to write like that. But assuming those parts that aren’t explicit or obvious are therefore not necessary, is where a lot of writers who try to write in this style fall down.
Just because the reader might not consciously register the deeper meaning doesn’t mean it isn’t there, or that it doesn’t affect the reader. You write without those additional layers of meaning and the words will ring hollow and gratuitous.
Whose point of view is it? What are they trying to say? What are you trying to say through them? How does what you’ve written achieve those things? You can't leave these things to chance, you have to be aware of them and you have to make sure they're there.
Then again, whichever style you are drawn to, the short and simple, or the extended and eloquent, what you want to concentrate on is story. What is the story you want to tell? Why is it worth telling? Everything comes secondary to that. In an interview with The Paris Review in 1956, Faulkner remarked, “Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error.”
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