I read a great post the other day on styles that turn agents off. (You can read it here.) It has inspired this post and, I’m sure, many more to follow. This one is on flowery prose. You know the type I’m talking about.
Granted, flowery prose can be great fun to write. Unfortunately, it isn’t all that fun to read. It’s usually so full of adjectives the reader is tripping over himself trying to imagine every bit. If he trips too many times, he’ll put your book down and never pick it up again. Reading fiction should be enjoyable, it shouldn’t be work.
The blazing orange ball hung low in the dimming purple sky, glimmering in the rippling water as she shielded her cerulean eyes from the blinding glare.
Do you see what I mean? Twenty-six tongue-tripping words to say ‘she shielded her eyes from the setting sun.’
You could argue that the longer version is poetic, but if you want to be poetic, write a poem. Adjectives are fine in their place, it’s when you get too many crowding together that they gum up the works. Think of a painting of a crowd. If the artist focuses on a single object that draws your eye, say a woman’s hat, you have something to focus on. The rest of the crowd is still there, but it’s peripheral. You get the gist of it, but you’re drawn to the hat. If the artist focuses on the entire crowd, everything is lost as he tries to include every detail. There’s too much to take in. Writing is like that. Choose your adjectives carefully. Choose your descriptions carefully.
If you find yourself tempted to have more than one adjective in a row, stop and reconsider. Is it really necessary? Are you listing every descriptive word for that item in this sentence? If so, don’t. Try to think of one descriptive word that gets your point across rather than two or three. What’s the most important? Is it his red hair? Her gown’s sparkly quality in the moonlight? The bird’s annoying call? Other details can come through later as they become important (if they become important. Your reader doesn’t want to read a laundry list of qualities, they want to be taken in, they want to discover things as the scene goes on.
Write for them. Save your laundry lists for your character sheets.