I spoke by Skype recently to a very gifted writer I’m mentoring, and he told me his previous attempts at fiction were an embarrassment of “purple prose,” the phrase writers use for overblown, overwritten language. He had, he said, cured himself of that failing. I told him his purge of purpleness was a fine goal.
But then I told him he might have gone too far.
By hacking out all the overwritten material, he had inadvertently cauterized his story’s lifeblood: the characters’ private thoughts and feelings. What I call their “Inscape.” He had reduced his characters to just actions. He’d left out the thing that readers crave to know: the “why.” The motivation.
Inscape is the only way a reader can get to know a character intimately. It’s the only map for discovering a character’s truest heart. Not what they say. Not even what they do on the surface of their lives. Inscape, instead, lays bare the person’s hidden self: their secret longings, their darkest fears, their private joys. Their deepest self.
Getting there, though, is a process. Writing is not a science, it’s an art. And sometimes we find our way to art by overdoing, by overwriting, by being overblown. Because that’s how we dig deep, how we plumb our characters’ most profound desires and fears.
Only by hauling up loads of ore can we sift and refine, and thereby find nuggets of gold.
So I say to thee, “Go forth and overwrite.” Then, my friends, wisely refine.
All my best,
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