Purple Prose: Three Thing You Can Do to Banish it from Your Writing

Beware the purple prose, the overblown writing that flies furious through the noon day sun and creeps, sullen and dark, through the midnight depths.

Snicker.  Sometimes I crack myself up.

I was meeting with my critique group and described something as purple prose.  Cricket cricket cricket.  No one had heard the term before and if you don’t know what it is, you can’t possibly avoid it.  Purple prose is text that is overwritten, overblown and oh so incredibly dramatic.  You know – like that first line up there.  The purple one. It’s a problem because it tends to pull the reader out of your story.  That and the fact that editors don’t want to see it.

Sometimes it happens because someone was trying too hard to sound literary.  I know I created lilac prose a time or two.  Maybe lavender lyrics.  It wasn’t good but it wasn’t horrid.  It just sounded out-of-place and overdone.  I haven’t had a problem with it in a while because…

  1. I learned to recognize it and not just in my own writing.  When I cringe at something, I look closer.  Most often someone is trying to outdo Pride and Prejudice. Romance writers seem to be the most vulnerable but this isn’t limited to them.  As I ‘ve learned to recognize purple prose I find I’m able to avoid it because …
  2. I’ve developed my own voice.  I’ve grown comfortable with how I sound so my voice is more consistent.  I’m not trying to sound more knowledgeable or more literary than I truly am.  I can read something out loud and if it sounds like I’m trying to hard I rework the sentence, removing whatever $10.00 word felt out-of-place.  This is part of learning to …
  3. Cut what doesn’t need to be there.  A certain degree of detail is essential in any story.  It helps pull the reader in, but don’t go overboard.  If you are writing a book about a musician, you might need to go on a bit about her instrument and her music.  Her gown?  Her shoes? Maybe, but most likely not.

While a touch of violet in a royal robe may help your story sing, avoid the purple prose.  If you should fail to do this, you risk the disaster of plunging your beloved reader into the deepest pits of despair.