It was yesterday while I was explaining ‘purple prose’ to my students that I thought – this is what I’ll do my next post on. I am sure most of you who are in the writing business already know what this term means. So, this is more for those who don’t.
The term ‘purple prose’ refers to writing which is full of ornate or flowery language. It consists of words and phrases which are overly descriptive with lots of adjectives, adverbs, clichés and euphemisms. ‘Purple prose’ also refers to writing which uses exaggerated sentiments in an attempt to stir the reader’s emotions. The intention of the writer here is make it more interesting, but what it actually ends up doing is to make it boring.
The most classic example given when talking of purple prose is that which is taken from Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s (1803-73) novel Paul Clifford (1830), which begins with:
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
Here the “dark and stormy night” has been described so ornately and exaggeratedly that it seems like you’re reading just too many words, and not a description. Today, the writers who are most often accused of writing purple prose are writers of romance or mystery.
To all new writers: Try and avoid writing purple prose… it is considered bad writing. Choose your words carefully. The best way to do this is to avoid the overuse of adjectives and adverbs. Instead of using an adverb to describe a weak verb, use a strong verb; and instead of an adjective to describe a weak noun, use a strong noun. Also, avoid being dramatic when describing emotions. Keep it simple and use only as much detail as is necessary.
Do you know of a good example of purple prose? Why don’t you share it here with us?