The Dreaded Purple Passages of Writing

The Most Flowery of Language – Purple Prose
Okay, so what do you consider to be purple prose? What is it? Give us an example. Do you love it? Hate it? Find it tolerable or small doses? Or do you think all shades of violet wording should be destroyed?


Purple prose is one of those things that I hear about and almost fear in my own writing.  It is applied to descriptions in stories that are so ornate and extravagant that they either call attention to themselves or break the flow of the story.

Trying to write an example is a bit tough for me, since I have trouble describing anything at all in my writing.  Basically, instead of simply saying that tears stood in someone’s eyes, in a passage of purple prose, the writer would linger on the color of the person’s eyes, the quiver of her lip, the soft sniffle, as she struggled to regain her composure.  It would be something that would take what should just be a moment in time and turn it into something that goes on for what would feel to the reader, far too long.

I’ve honestly seldom encountered something that was at the level that it could actually be called “purple prose” in my reading experience.  Some writing styles are just really descriptive.  Romance novels can be very descriptive at times.  However, in that case, it’s almost part of the appeal of romance novels as a genre.

The speculative fiction genre is another place where descriptions can get a bit wordy.  It’s difficult to create an entire world and make it seem both real and different from the real world without going into long descriptions of that world.

Honestly, I’ve heard so often how horrible purple prose is that I have started going the other way.  I seldom describe anything at all.  It’s something that I’ve struggled with.  Whenever I ask how to describe things better, I’m told that I don’t need to describe things.  Well… if the reader is expected to know anything about the setting, I have to describe some things.  Description, itself, isn’t such a bad thing.  It’s only when the description gets in the way of the story that it’s a problem.

That said, I like it when the writer waxes a bit poetic about some things in a story.  The only time verbose descriptions have ever bothered me was when it slowed down the action of the story.  There’s a time and place for description.  Like everything else in writing.  It’s about finding the right balance.  It’s something I’m still working at.

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