Image courtesy of Victor Habbick

     “Purple prose” is a term that I’ve recently become acquainted with over the last few months.  Naturally, with purple being my favorite color, I immediately thought this was a good thing.  But after reading a few reviews, I quickly learned that whenever purple prose was mentioned in a critique, it was most definitely not a good thing.  So, being the inquisitive person that I am, I went searching for the meaning.

     What exactly is purple prose and why is it such a bad thing?  The answer to this question will vary based on whom you ask.  In general, purple prose is a term applied to overly verbose writing, or as some call it, “flowery writing”.  It is when an author uses large words, for the sake of seeming more intelligent or goes into far more detail than necessary, coming across as melodramatic.  The term applies to any prose that pulls the reader out of the story and causes them to focus on the “offending” imagery.

     Have you ever been reading something and been completely rapt in the story only to come across a phrase or sentence that has your mind tripping over the words, completely breaking the spell?  If at any time you have found yourself saying “wait, what?”, you have been a victim of purple prose.  But because everyone’s mind works differently, what one person might view as purple prose, could be viewed as a vivid description by another person.

     So how can I, as a writer, avoid purpling my prose?  As I’ve mentioned several times before, the best way to improve your writing is to be an avid reader.  Think back to a book you were reading where you couldn’t help but roll your eyes and say “oh please!”  Or a time where you were yanked out of the story because the author unnecessarily used a word that is not commonly used and it did not offer any added value to the story.  Once you can identify these things, you can avoid making the same mistakes in your own writing.

     Another way to avoid purple prose is to remain true to your own voice.  Are you writing something that you would never be caught dead saying in real life?  Putting made up sci-fi or fantasy vocabulary aside, do you actually use these words in your day to day life?  Or are you just using it because you want your readers to view you in a certain light?  More often than not, readers can sense when an author is not being genuine and the last thing you want is for your readers to feel like you are putting on airs.

     So, a term that I once thought of as pretty, has taken on a whole new meaning.  Now when I think of purple prose, I can’t help thinking of the song “Flying Purple People Eater” by Sheb Wooley.  It was a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people eater…  Anyone else remember the movie with Neil Patrick Harris?  

Beware the purple prose!