"Purple Prose" - sounds pretty doesn't it? Well, it isn't pretty...it's awful.
I, like most baby-writers, am guilty of this terrible crime - a sufferer of this merciless disease. So much so that I've shamefully labeled myself the Prince of Purple Prose. This post is how I discovered I had a sickness, found hope, and began treatment of this woeful affliction.
I started what became my first completed MS on November 15, 2011. If you've read the blog highlighting my process (As the Gears Turn) then it shouldn't surprise you that I finished my first draft on January 16, 2012.
You can't imagine how thrilled I was.
My best friend Kim was there when the idea crept into my head in the wee hours of 3am on November 13, 2011. I texted her what I now know to be a very crude example of a Pitch. When she woke up she responded with "I really like that idea!" and so I plotted and planned book one for two days then I got started.
Just before midnight on January 16, 2012 I hit "Send" allowing Kim to be the first person to read an entire manuscript that I had written.
Mere seconds after e-mailing her, this was my face:
I realized that I jumped ahead in my writing - skipping over a part that gave me trouble - and never went back to add very important (like, lynchpin-of-plot-twist-important) information in! A text was sent informing her of this.
Days later, life intervened, and all writerly-thoughts/bookish things fell by the wayside for a time.
Finally the month of May rolled around.
I opened up the e-mail that I sent my Kim containing the first draft of my MS. I was certain it needed a little polishing. I definitely needed to go back and add that chapter, and a few other lines scattered throughout for foreshadowing and clarification. Come to think of it, I didn't remember Kim ever getting back to me on how she liked it!
Cue the most Humbling/Mortifying experience of my writer-life.
"It's just so AWFUL!"
The MS was garbage. Absolute garbage. I called Kim immediately.
"WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL ME!?"
God bless her for being tactful, the poor girl couldn't make it beyond chapter 5. It was just that bad. It was so bad my best friend couldn't bear it.
I set to what would eventually become a re-write. I called it "editing" to make myself feel better.
Many, many things changed (and actually there were a few paragraphs here and there that stayed the same) By October I had something I was rather proud of, but still needed polishing.
In November, I got a partial request by the very first agent I queried - within 2 hours of sending! I nearly fainted.
One of the very first things Agent A said to me was: "If it is a prologue then it could use some trimming." But Agent A still requested the first 30 pages. The next day I received a very helpful rejection. I made appropriate changes (calling my prologue a prologue for one, instead of trying to class it up by naming it a chapter), and added my MC's into the prologue - because I've heard some people like starting out a story by getting to know the protagonists - whod've thought?
The day I queried Agent B (after I had already sent the query) I went to Barnes & Noble after work, and was scouring the Acknowledgments pages of books that fit my genre to see who to add to my query list. The first two in a row I picked up were Agent B!
"Kim, it's a sign," I texted.
The next day Agent B requested the FULL! If you heard a small explosion somewhere in the distance on November 29, 2012 - that was me.
I wrote each chapter of my MS in a separate word document. Even upon the manuscript's completion I never put the chapters together in one complete file. So, despite my querying, I had no idea of the actual word count of my MS.
If you're a querying writer, and have some idea of how this process works then you can imagine and appreciate my terror when I discovered that upon consolidating my MS to one, double-spaced, Times New Roman, 12 pt font Word Document my debut YA Fantasy novel was 500 pages at 113,139 words.
Let that sink in.
I threw caution to the wind and hit send. By the next morning I had read every single blog post Agent B had written for the last two years, I went to QueryTracker and determined an average response time on requested materials. From my extensive (AKA insane) calculations, we would fit together like peanut butter and honey, and I had 12 days to wait....
It was almost two months.
I received a polite rejection mid-early January. But since the agent had requested the full, I hadn't queried anyone else. So from November (when the Agent made the request) until mid-early January I hadn't even glimpsed at my MS. I was too nervous. There were times I literally almost suffered a cardiac event when my phone would buzz with an e-mail. Then I would unleash a string of curses at Amazon for sending me spam and daring to get my hopes up.
I got the heartbreaking response, and immediately set to querying my next round of agents...
Until I read over what I had sent Agent B.
I literally almost fell asleep reading my own chapter two.
The audience doesn't need to know which hand she used to flip the lightswitch, or how the lampshade "filtered the bulb's soft, yellow glow giving the forty year old living room a lived-in, but well-loved atmosphere that made the formerly garish, floral printed couch seem warm, inviting, and full of memories." THAT, ladies and gents, is Purple Prose. My characters were leaving the house. Just. Leaving. The house.
After I calmed down, but before I stopped berating myself I set to revising. I got it clean. Pretty-ish. And better still, Twitter caused a new Agent to catch my eye.
Agent C had my attention instantly. New to the market, dedicated, intelligent, kind,...so many other positive things that I'll wrap it up with a bow and call it Perfect.
Except for the fact that Agent C didn't really represent YA Fantasy. There was a glimmer of hope though (I'm always hopeful) and after I cleaned some of this, and polished some of that I held my finger over the Send button for a few days. Agent C and I were Twitter-friends. What if I sent it and they didn't like me anymore?! What if they thought my writing was terrible? What if I had gotten their hopes up, and my story was a terrible disappointment?
The amount of patience I have only allowed me to wait three days.
I sent it, and it was mere days before I got the best writing advice I'd ever recieved.
Agent C rejected, not only was my intuition correct about them not representing Epic Fantasy, but because Purple Prose still could be found within my MS.
Agenct C - though they didn't represent my genre of work, and definitely had better things to be doing - took the time to actually read my prologue, and quote it back to me citing incidents of Purple Prose (though they were kind enough not to label it as such). Agent C also complimented my "knack for imagery" but warned me to be careful.
I was on cloud 9! You'd have thought Agent C had thrown me a parade, or presented me with a plate of Snickerdoodles. (Yes, Snickerdoodles make me that happy!)
Thanks to amazing Agent C, some advice from Stephen King, and a suggestion by my excellent Critique Partner I have a prologue that barely spans 2 pages, and a clean, crisp, 19 chapter MS. Though I'm sure there's still an innane adverb hidden in there somewhere - there always is. Today I'm down to a tidy 96,309 words...and still shrinking. Every day I find a little more fat that needs trimming. My full MS is now in the hands of an agent, in part, because of these people.
My cup of gratitude runneth over.
All of that to say, if there's hope for me then there's hope for you.
Go forth! Write, Cut, Clean, Polish! Don't make my mistakes!
Until we meet again...