Thought I’d share a tip regarding one of my pet peeves, often found in fanfiction but not exclusively so. It’s this: eyes, though spherical, should never be replaced by orbs. I’ll give you an example:

“His emerald green orbs shone like gemstones.”

First of all, unless he’s holding a two or more spherical pieces of chromium-doped beryl, this sentence is wrong at best and jarringly so at worst. For one thing, only part of the eye (the iris) is colored green. The rest is, in a healthy eye, white sclera. The exception is for alien or otherwise non-baseline-human characters which might actually have eyes that are fully colored. Otherwise you get into purple prose.

Purple prose, for the uninitiated, is what happens when you decide that language is good for its own sake and not a means of communication. That isn’t to say that phraseology cannot be used to good effect: Adams and Wolfe and Michener and Stross and Rajaniemi wouldn’t be nearly as interesting as they are without their particular patterns and choice of vocabulary (in order: humorous, grandfatherly, didactic, technical, and WOAH).

However, I draw the line when I stop being able to understand who is talking, what they’re talking about, or what any of it has to do with anything else. The biggest offenders I have encountered (based on what little I could stomach) are Hawthorne and Pynchon. The Scarlet Letter, if my high-school memory does not deceive me, goes on for a while about trees before it settles into anything approaching the plot. Gravity’s Rainbow is so frustratingly thick that I can hardly call it literature. Much of the first few pages is dedicated to bananas and the preparation thereof–at least, that’s what I remember; it’s difficult to learn anything from that pile of vocabu-vomit–even though the story is about spies in World War II-era England, going after the V2.

The point of all this is: unless you’re good enough with the rules to know when and how to break them, stick with simple words in simple sentences. This is true of many things–for example, for my fellow My Little Pony fans, there is “lavender unicorn syndrome”. Lavender she may be, but just call her by her name. Pronouns are acceptable.

Call things what they are. If you’re referring to a character’s eyes as orbs, they should be holding them in their hand and playing peek-a-boo with themselves.

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