Rachel Hauck

Best-selling author and award winning author Rachel Hauck lives in central Florida with her husband and loving pets. She earned a B.A. degree in Journalism from Ohio State University and spent seventeen years in the corporate software world before leaving to write full time. Rachel loves to teach and mentor writers.

She is a Book Therapist at www.MyBookTherapy.com, a daily craft blog and community for writers. In the past, Rachel is the president of American Christian Fiction Writers and now servers on the Advisor Board. Visit her blog and web site at www.rachelhauck.com.

Finding The Amethyst In Fiction

amethystMost of us know the amethyst gemstone for its extravagant purple or violet color. It’s often considered the stone of legends and royalty, even claiming miraculous powers to prevent drunkenness or ward off snakebite.

But as a writer and reader, purple brings to mind one thing: purple prose.

Show of hands if you’ve read a book in which the writing and descriptions were so over the top you wanted to either laugh or throw the book across the room.

In simple terms, we call it overwriting. The author is trying too hard to convey an emotion and borders on manipulating the reader.

But we’re too smart for them, aren’t we?

Here’s a fun example of purple prose. It’s from The Garden of Cyrus by Sir Thomas Browne (1605–82), first published in 1658:

But the Quincunx of Heaven runs low, and ’tis time to close the five ports of knowledge. We are unwilling to spin out our awaking thoughts into the phantasms of sleep, which often continueth precogitations; making Cables of Cobwebs and Wildernesses of handsome Groves. Besides Hippocrates hath spoke so little and the Oneirocriticall Masters have left such frigid Interpretations from plants that there is little encouragement to dream of Paradise itself. Nor will the sweetest delight of Gardens afford much comfort in sleep; wherein the dullness of that sense shakes hands with delectable odours; and though in the Bed of Cleopatra, can hardly with any delight raise up the Ghost of a Rose.

I stopped reading after Quincunx of Heaven. The sentence is so long and awkward, it’s hard to tell what Browne wanted to communicate. It has no story world, no characterization. Whose point of view is it, anyway?

It’s tempting to think we are reading a good book when the sentences are long and flowery or stuffed with big words. But really, don’t we just want to escape into a story and fall in love with the characters?

A few years ago, I was reading an “acclaimed” author whose works were being added to university reading lists. One sentence took me at least a minute to read and reread. It was long and full of comma phrases. I said to my husband, “No wonder kids hate literature.”

The amethyst stone is simple, beautiful, and sought after, found in mines around the world from southern Brazil to Madagascar to Canada. Sounds like a good novel, doesn’t it? Takes us on a journey from South America to coast of Africa back to North America. (Someone should make a movie . . .)

Purple prose doesn’t make a book. Solid writing and storytelling makes a book.

These are passages from CBA authors I’ve enjoyed reading.

Kate tucked her clipboard in the crook of her elbow, took the steps down Jetty Pavilion’s porch, and crossed the heel-sinking sand of the Nantucket shoreline. Denise Hunter, The Convenient Groom

Can you see Kate maneuvering through the sand with a clipboard? I see her in a suit of some kind, hair pulled back, all businesslike. That simple sentence put me right into the story. Any more and I’d have quit reading, wondering what the author was trying to pull.

Five months ago I raised Gary and Mary Andrews from the dead. Lisa Samson, Quaker Summer

I’m intrigued, drawn in and want to find out more. This single sentence tells me an interesting story follows. I want to know who, what, when, where, why, and how. Nothing purple about this opening line.

If Kat were hunting for the quintessential cowboy, with a lazy smile, heavy-duty arms and a physique that could wrestle cattle, she had to look no farther than Rafe Noble. Susan May Warren, Taming Rafe

Okay, Kat and I have a lot in common: What’s not to like about Rafe? Men want to be him. Women adore him. In a straight forward description, we “see” the hero of the book.

During the brisk drive back to Holly’s place, I dragged hard on an overdue cigarette while she stared out her window at the bright landscape of dilapidated, one-story pawn shops, low rent casinos and chintzy wedding chapels. Creston Mapes, Nobody

I love this chapter beginning. I picked it from the middle of the book but I know right where we are—Las Vegas—and I have strong sense of what’s going on. No purple prose here.

I peer around the manicured yards of the homes that line the streets, with their freshly painted piazzas and polished brass door knockers and plaques spelling out each home’s historical significance, and it seems even the flower boxes are smirking at Mama and me. I hope she will drop me off quickly so that none of my friends will see me in this junk mobile. Beth Webb Hart, Grace at Low Tide

This paragraph paints a picture of manicured lawns, historical homes. I relate to how DeVeaux is feeling, juxtaposing the eloquence of the neighborhood with her mama’s old beater.

I could go on with more authors, as I’m sure you could, too. One of the things I really appreciate about CBA publishers is their desire for excellence. The writing in this industry is some of the best.

But back to purple and the amethyst. Romance novels are often dinged for their flowery, over-the-top writing, mostly in an effort to be sensual without being pornographic. It’s made the romance genre both over-the-top popular and over-the-top snubbed.

But like the amethyst, writers and stories come from all over the world in various shades and textures. The value is determined by demand and desire.

So is fiction. Make it your goal this year to read lots of good books.

Love Starts With Elle