Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Purple prose, say it isn't so!

Now...I've been beta-ing for a few authors recently and purple prose always comes up in some of my critiques. I'll admit...sometimes I'm guilty of doing it myself. No one likes purple prose, it's the quintessential indication of bad writing! So do you know what purple prose is, class?

If not, get out your notebooks and pencils and start taking down notes. There will be a quiz.

So what is purple prose?

Quite simply, purple prose is when a writer uses overly descriptive language, wordy (verbose) sentences, and unnecessary, flowery adverbs and adjectives. Teenagers are notorious offenders of purple prose. In an effort to appear profound, they use big words and drag out their sentences to an absurd length. Although the words look pretty, the sentence loses its punch, and your reader begins to glaze across the page. This isn't what you want your readers to do.

Now I can hear some of you whining already: "But what's wrong with using big word and descriptive narrative?! Isn't that a good thing?!"

Yes. But if you're using too many big words and your narration is full of flowery, ridiculous adjectives, your sentence is going to read like some cheesy paragraph out of a Hallmark card. Not only that, but it'll look like you're trying too hard--and your readers will probably laugh at you.

Still not understanding what I'm talking about? Here are some examples of REALLY bad purple prose:

1. ``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.'' From Linda Gauer, Norton, Ohio.

2. "Ace, watch your head!'' hissed Wanda urgently, yet somehow provocatively, through red, full, sensuous lips, but he couldn't, you know, since nobody can actually watch more than part of his nose or a little cheek or lips if he really tries, but he appreciated her warning.'' From Janice Estey, Aspen, Colo.

3. Following the unfortunate bucking of his horse when it was startled by the posse's shots, Tex who now lay in a disheveled heap in the sagebrush pushed back his sweat-stained Stetson from one deep-set eye, spat a stream of tobacco juice at the nearest cactus, and reflected momentarily that the men approaching him with ropes probably weren't just out for a skip, and if they were his freshly broken ankle would have to cause him to decline any entreaties to join them.'' From Becky Mushko, Roanoke, Va.
Did your eyes glaze over? Mine certainly did.

I found all of these examples on Phillip's Corner. Romance authors use a lot of purple prose too, as Deb Stover describes in her hilarious article.

I admit, everytime I read "conflagrative crackling of the fire" and "as creamily as marshmellow fluff" I start giggling like crazy. In fact, my boyfriend and I were in the car the other day, and I had a full-on giggle fit over the first example while we were on our way to dinner. Hahaha, I'm laughing as I type this sentence!

So what can you do to fix purple prose once you spot it?

First off? Break up your sentences! Instead of one long, rambling, monster-of-a-sentence, break it down into two or three. You can still get all your ideas across without cramming them all together in one sentence.

Secondly, don't overuse your adverbs and adjectives! "As creamily as marshmallow fluff" sounds very pretty...but it's too much. Pick the strongest adjective or adverb for your sentence and use just that one instead of all of them at once.

Lastly, don't be afraid of concise writing! Readers actually prefer short, punchy descriptions to the long epic paragraphs. Less strenuous on the eyes and allows the reader to fill in the gaps with their imaginations. We don't need to know exactly what magazines and books were on the coffee table. Just tell us there were magazines and books there. Don't count and describe every article of clothing in the closet, simply tell us the woman had a lot of clothes.

Purple prose is easier to spot the longer you've been writing. So be on the lookout for it in your own writing and in those you beta. No one likes purple prose. And now you know how to fix it from reading my post! There's no excuse!

Happy writing and reading everybody! Until next time...



Related Posts with Thumbnails