A Run-In with Purple Prose

The dictionary states that purple prose is “prose that is too elaborate or too ornate.” Now, everyone has their own opinions as to what is too elaborate or too ornate, so defining purple prose really is a matter of taste. I really try to give an author the benefit of a doubt when reading. My defining line is “if the elaboration adds to the clarity of the scene, or gives a sharper definition to a character, then it is a successful use of prose. However, if all it does is take up the word count, then it’s just a clutter of letters jamming the story.”

Apparently, not all people follow my approach, including editors and publishers. There is a certain author – a nationally bestselling author at that – who falls under my category of purple prose. She writes historic romance, and takes great pains to use the proper vernacular for all the character’s speech, and even in her own prose. I commend this, it really is impressive to read a story set in the 16th century and really feel like it was written at that time (just with modern spelling). However, she also seems to take every opportunity of showering her descriptions with…extra words. Phrases like “noble visage,” “liquid orbs,” and “silken limbs” get old quickly. I soon have to resort to scanning certain paragraphs because I feel too bogged down with flowery adjectives to follow the plot. This is depression when I can’t get through the first chapter without thinking that there are a lot of unnecessary words dotting the page.

The moral is this, dear children: fancy prose has its place, and it is up to you the writer to define when enough’s enough. However, if you really have to spew your poetic vocabulary into your work, make sure all it does is enhance the story. It’s more effective if its planted sparingly. Really.

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