/Purple prose: what it is and how to avoid it

Purple prose: what it is and how to avoid it

Although purple prose sounds pretty and like a way you’d like your writing to be described, it’s actually not a good thing for your writing to be described this way.

If someone calls your writing prose purple, they are essentially calling it flowery. That is, they think it’s too wordy, too formal, or trying too hard to be poetic.

Although there are some genres and authors who think purple prose is a badge of honor as a writer, we’ll let you decide for yourself.

In this article, we’ll delve into what purple prose is, where it comes from in history, look at some examples, and ultimately how to avoid it as a writer.

What is purple prose?

Purple prose is overly formal, poetic, or wordy writing. It’s when too many adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors are used to describe things.

Usually, there’s no specific rule about what is or isn’t purple prose, it’s more of a “you know it when you see it” kind of thing.

Sometimes it is also subjective and not everyone agrees if some pieces are purple prose or not.

With that in mind, it can be hard to define exactly what it is, but the novelist and poet Paul West had this to say about it:

“It takes a certain amount of chutzpah to champion prose that is rich, succulent, and full of novelty. Purple is immoral, undemocratic, and insincere; at best, artistic, at worst, the exterminating angel of depravity.”

Paul West from his article “In Defense of Purple Prose” at the New York Times

Ultimately, writers don’t want to be too flowery and spread too thin. You’ll want to adjust your sentences and make sure you keep your readers engaged.

Where does the phrase Purple Prose come from?

The Roman poet Horace was the first to coin the phrase purple prose in his poem. The art of poetry.

Here is the translated version:

Its opening shows great promise and yet striking purple spots; as when describing a sacred grove, or Diana’s altar, or a stream meandering through the fields, or the river Rhine, or a rainbow; but this was not the place for them. If you can realistically depict a cypress tree, would you include one when you were commissioned to paint a sailor in the midst of a shipwreck?

Of the art of poetry by horace

For context, at the time, purple dye was incredibly expensive and having some purple in your clothing was a sign of wealth. Many people who wanted to portray being wealthy would put purple fabric on their cheaper clothes to appear wealthier than they were, so it began to be thought of as flashy and flashy.

This is why Horace drew a line between purple cloth in society and purple prose in writing. Then people used it to describe any kind of writing that just tried too hard and turned readers away.

Purple prose is deeper than sentence writing, and instead is flashy writing for the sake of flashiness, without giving the writing meaning or depth.

Again, it’s up to you as a writer to include or exclude as much detail as you want, but you’ll want to avoid including so many metaphors that you miss what you’re trying to say.

Examples of purple prose

As you read through some of the examples below, see if you can figure out why they are defined as purple prose or not. You may even want to read them out loud for further understanding.

Most of us have heard the phrase, “It was a dark and stormy night…” but not many people know that it’s an often-mocked piece of writing and a perfect example of purple prose.

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was stopped by a violent gust of wind which swept through the streets (for it is in London that our scene is set), rattling on the roofs of the houses, and stirring fiercely the scant flame of the lamps that fought against the darkness.

Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford

Another example from Jerome K. Jerome. This one might be a bit more obvious, as you can see that it’s a complete sentence on its own as an example. As you read it, see if he grabs his attention or if his eyes start to glaze over at a certain point in the sentences.

“The river, with sunlight glistening on its dancing waves, gilding the beech trunks grey-green, shining through the dark cool wooden paths, chasing shadows over the shallows, casting diamonds from the mill wheels , blowing kisses. to the water lilies, frolicking in the white waters of the reservoirs, silvering walls and bridges covered with moss, illuminating every tiny village, sweetening every path and meadow, lying entangled in the reeds, peeking, laughing, from every cove, glowing joyfully in many a distant sail, softening the air with glory, is a stream of golden fairies.”

Jerome K. Jerome’s three men in a boat

For a more modern example of purple prose, check out romance novels, particularly those from the 1970s and 1980s where graphic scenes were depicted using fancy metaphors and metaphors to describe things so their novels wouldn’t be so raunchy.

How to avoid purple prose

Keep in mind that if you’re just starting out as a writer, you’re likely going to run into a bunch of bugs. It is the cost of entry to become a professional writer.

If you are trying to make your writing creative and poetic, it is better exaggerate at first as you learn to write creatively and say what you want to say.

With that in mind, you’ll surely create purple prose here and there, but as long as you make sure to re-edit it and keep only the strong parts of your sentences, you should be fine. .

As always, as a writer, you must constantly be editing your work and thinking about any additional parts you want to remove. If you leave too much fluffy language in your writing, it can not only put readers off, but it can distract them from the main point you’re trying to make at the time.

You know how some authors write over people’s heads on purpose? Like they use fancy language so they can brag about how smart they are? That’s generally what you want to avoid as a writer, you always want to write directly to the people you want to read your book.

One way to test if your writing is too fluffy is to have test readers give you an honest opinion.

There are also writing tools that can help you show where your writing might be stronger or weaker.

You can also read your writing aloud to see how many breaths you need to take to finish a single sentence, which can be a sign that it’s too long and wordy.

Get your fiction manual

Looking for a guide to writing fiction? One that gives you the practical step-by-step guide to getting your fiction book out into the world? This guide has everything you need: