As an aspiring author, words have always been very important to me. They conjure images that encourage all five of your senses to reach out and experience what the author is showing you. Or, they should.
Being so very much in love with them, I tend to sometimes fall into the trap of what is termed, ‘purple prose’ – A means of over describing something to the point that what you’re trying to show your reader becomes overwhelmed by the sentence itself. A little like the clock face on the tower of Big Ben, is overshadowed by the architecture that has gone into the supporting structure. It’s a terrible habit and I’m sure I’m not the only one that has had to employ strict self-censure when writing.
Recently, in doing some closer study of this word trap, I’ve come across a new phrase being bandied about that’s made me stop and think – Dumbing it down. An article I read lambasted Charles Dickens for bloating his works with purple prose and while I can see where the writer was coming from, I do have to wonder:
Have our habits as readers deteriorated to the degree where we no longer wish to apply our brains to absorbing beautifully crafted sentences? And is this directly related to our reading time having become limited? Have we become so caught up in the busy humdrum of modern existence that we’d rather sacrifice craft and building our vocabulary for the sake of the ‘easy read’?
English is a rich and wonderfully descriptive language. However, less and less in our daily use of it, are we employing words that convey a certain intelligence and understanding of it. Yes, daily language is often very different to the written language. But more and more that gap seems to be closing and not in a good way.
Reader fatigue, we’re told as writers, is the quickest way to turn someone off your book. And I do agree. However, with movies and television taking the work out of imagination, its my opinion that busy people are being conditioned to look for the quickest route to digesting a story. A sure sign of the times and we as authors must learn to adapt, or die before we even get out of the starting gates.
But for one who grew up reading the classics treasuring each and every word written that challenged me to think while I was reading, sometimes diving into a dictionary so that I could learn a new word, the term ‘Dumbing it down’, is rather a saddening thought.
So I leave you with this:
If purple prose is heaping whipped cream, custard, chocolate sauce and sprinkles all over the perfect simplicity of a crepe Suzette, then could we not liken ‘Dumbing It Down’ to serving macaroni and cheese without the cheese or the sauce?