The word you’re looking for is “flowery”. Unless your writing is actually depicting flowers then it isn’t floral. Floral patterns. Floral arrangements. Flowery writing as in “overly-descriptive” and even “purple prose”. The secondary definition of flowery is “marked by or given to rhetorical elegance”. While the two words are similar and can be used to describe similar things or even the same thing, they are not the same word.
Most words are not, actually, interchangeable.
It may seem pedantic to point that out, but in this case it actually isn’t. In fact, one of the key causes of purple prose within your writing is a lack of specificity when it comes to word choice i.e. using a word that doesn’t mean what the author is trying to convey. Sometimes it’s too many descriptors when one will do or when the writer becomes so in love with the language that they don’t stop to look at what their words are doing on the page.
Any style of writing can fall prey to this, you just happen to be wandering in one where it’s more common. Fantasy, Sword and Sorcery, Pulps, and genre fiction in general are given to stylistic choices that lean toward or actively are purple prose. This is doubly true if you’re trying to work with any style of writing from the late 20th to early 19th century or, in some cases, even earlier.
The reason for this is that language changes, often substantially. What was acceptable in the Victorian era is not acceptable now. In fact, the words they were using often to don’t mean the same thing now that they did then. More than that, most of us lack the education of the era necessary to give it context. You can imitate Conan Doyle or Jane Austen or William Wadsworth Longfellow, but without the context of what the language meant culturally and an understanding of the time period then you will say things you don’t mean and do things in your writing that you really shouldn’t. The rampant racism in nearly every work that chases after H.P. Lovecraft, including anything that references frog monsters or Cthulu, should be a sign. (Lovecraft actively utilizes xenophobia in his writing as a launchpad for horror.) Also the sloppy use of language, which made sense when Lovecraft did it but makes less sense when someone else lifts it without understanding what he was doing.
If anything, that should be a lesson in why blatant copying of any artists work without understanding is a bad idea. Even when it’s just their sentence structure, language choice, or pacing, you often take a lot more than you mean to.
That said, any style of writing is interesting if well done.
If you can make it work and it’s interesting, then great. There is no one way to write. The only trouble with overly descriptive writing is that it tends to slow down the action, but there are plenty of beloved stories with very purple prose that have very compelling action sequences.
The goal of this blog, more than anything else, is to help you start to think about combat and its effects on your characters. Consequences and what affects what more than stylistic choices. How things work, mostly, so you can decide whether or not you want it to work that way.
Learn the rules so you can decide when you break them, so you can achieve what you’ve set out to achieve.
My only advice when it comes to style is the advice of the poet.
Be economical with your language.
Every word must earn it’s place on the page.
A single descriptor can be the difference between an evocative sentence and one that makes you tilt your head and go, “huh?”
Are your flowery words there just to be flowery or are they achieving a purpose? This is the actual meaning of “Kill your darlings”. You may love that turn of phrase, but if it’s not fulfilling a function and it’s only there to be pretty then get rid of it. It’s wasting the reader’s time and hurting the overall picture.
It’s a study of language, of purpose and place. Pretty is as pretty does, but pretty without purpose has no meaning and if it has no meaning then why should I or anyone else pay any attention? Every piece of your story fits together into a more cohesive whole and every word on the page is helping to tell that story, to create the parts that go into that whole.
If it’s not working then cut it. If it is, then keep it.
Does it enhance? Or does it hurt?
You are fighting a battle with every word you write to secure the reader’s attention and to keep it, to keep them reading. Your words. Your creation of tension. Your pacing. Every piece of your story is working to accomplish that goal. You may cut a scene you love and adore because it just doesn’t work. You may be cutting language you slaved over for weeks to get right. You may be cutting the best phrases you’ve ever written because they don’t fit within the story you’re trying to tell.
From the big picture to the single sentence, language only matters when it’s serving a purpose.
You have the style you have. You write the way you write.
Can you make it work and tell interesting stories?
That’s the only question that really matters.
You and your readers also the only ones who can answer it.
Here’s my advice:
Get a dictionary and thesaurus, possibly more than one.
Look up every word you don’t know.
Look up every word you do know.
Learn the subtle differences between similar words in what they describe.
What does the word “laugh” evoke for example?
Chuckle. Chortle. Cackle. Giggle. Snort. Titter. Guffaw. Howl. Roar. Whoop.
These are all words that can be used to describe laughter, but they describe different kinds of or expressions of laughter. They are all different words that mean slightly different things and those subtle distinctions create huge effects within your writing when it comes to descriptions. They are also situational.
Sometimes, “laughed” works just fine. It’s a good workhorse.
Giggles are usually high-pitched, when paired with women it tends to make them seem girlish or even childish. Chuckles are lower, more throaty, and a slightly softer or more husky kind of laugh. The snort is nasal, it happens in the nose and is short, punctuated. Modern usage commonly uses it to mark irony, sarcasm, or hypocrisy during conversation. Titters often happen behind a hand, when someone is trying to hide their laughter. Both chortle and guffaw are slightly more archaic, making them odd picks for any story incorporating more modern language.
Don’t pick the word that sounds impressive, don’t pick a different word just because you want to avoid saying the same thing twice. Pick the word which expresses what you want to express, otherwise it’s incongruous.
Also, read Robert E. Howard and Michael Morcock, especially Howard for purpley prose combined with efficient and economic use of language.
I cannot emphasize how important it is to use precise wording. Don’t say “magenta” if you mean “pink.” Don’t say ”anguished” when you mean “a little upset.”
Do you know what book I spent the most time looking at as a kid? A freakin’ dictionary. We have this big red dictionary, a nice hardcover, that I used to get out every time I would read a book or anything. If I didn’t know a word, I would just open up the dictionary and check the definition, then continue.
I always used context clues first, but the dictionary was always the second step. I still use dictionary.com and stuff like that all the time. Don’t be afraid to look things up–in fact, I encourage you to look up as many things as you possibly can. (Knowledge is power!)
Words have exact meanings–don’t pick a bigger word just because you want to sound smarter.