Purple Prose

January 3, 2010 at 12:20 PM | Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments

I have been there, done that and have a horrible book as proof.

Purple Prose:  a term of literary criticism used to describe passages, or sometimes-entire literary works, written in prose as overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to it.

Experimenting, and dare I say it, having fun with prose is fun. We all love the good metaphor, simile, and those random sprinkles of pathetic fallacy.

Sometimes it can truly make a book stand out. The words are so beautiful, the sentences are so amazingly crafted that it stays with you long after your read the last page. The words have made an impact on you.

But, there is a line. A very fine line that can be easily crossed. A line that separates effective prose from purple prose.

When you crossed the lines, the words begin to fail you.

Here is an example from the winner of of the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which honors bad writing:

Nigel lifted his Mont Blanc pen and held it in brief repose as he gazed past the conflagrative crackling of the fire in the hearth, through the triple-plate bay window, watching the incandescence of the twinkling stars like the detonation of a million flashbulbs, and the preponderance of frothy snowflakes blanketing the earth as creamily as marshmallow fluff, then, refreshed and inspired, he began to compose his annual Christmas form letter[1]

The problem?

I’m swimming in a sea of clichés, adverbs, adjectives, and awful similes. That whole paragraph, describing a character about to write a Christmas Letter. Nothing else actually happened! This just drags on, and most of the description is so unnecessary.

Flex your writing fingers and dabble in some prose fun. But, don’t get carried away, or try to show off. You are a storyteller; prose helps you tell your story in an interesting way.

Don’t ruin that.


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