The lure of florid prose

I will be the first to admit that I am not a beautiful writer.

Let me rephrase that. I’m a writer, and I’m beautiful (modest, too), but I do not write beautifully. No one will ever say of my writing that I have “a way with words.” I have not one ounce of poet in me.

Perhaps it’s the kind of books I grew up reading, or just because I have no talent with it, but I’m also not seduced by writing that is beautiful. Don’t get me wrong, I quite enjoyed Michael Ondaatje’s the English Patient. I keep rediscovering my love of romantic poetry like Shelley.

But when I’m reading fiction, beautiful prose is not enough to interest me in a book. (I anticipate taking some flak for this, but…)

In a recent workshop, the story included a scene — a dream sequence — that I didn’t think should be included. Other workshoppers defended it, and some of their reasons were good — but one argument given for it was that it was written beautifully, and so shouldn’t be lost.

I’m not going to get into any of the details of the scene or our points, because the workshop needs to be a safe place. But I will talk about that last argument.

I don’t think that beautiful writing is enough reason for something to be included in a piece of prose fiction.

Everything that appears in a story — especially short fiction — needs a reason to be there. It could further the plot, but it could just as easily further character development, or even just a theme or image. But it needs to do something.

If it can do something and be beautifully written, then fantastic. But it still has to do something. If a writer wants to keep a scene because of its writing, then that’s fine — if it’s tweaked a bit to contribute to the theme, or presents an image that comes back later in the story. But then it has to come back later in the story. Good writing cannot support a scene, a story, a book, all by itself.

Otherwise, it’s just linguistic masturbation.

Writing , , , , , ,

1 comment


  1. Amy

    I can completely agree with you on this one. I was recently told that my novel didn’t have enough florid prose in it. And I argued with her until I was blue in the face that adding beautifully written words was not something that should simply be done to say you’ve done it. We’ve yet to come to an agreement.

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