Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Purple Prose

Purple prose is a phrase that got thrown around a lot during my fan fiction days, but it's just as applicable in regular fiction.  In fact, romance novels are usually the prime breeding ground for it.  So, since we're doing nothing but reading romance novels this month, I thought I'd give you a little background on it.

Dictionary.com defines it as: writing that calls attention to itself because of its obvious use of certain effect, as exaggerated sentiment or pathos, especially in an attempt to enlist or manipulate the reader's sympathies.

That definition is almost purple prose. Urban Dictionary makes it a little more concise, "a term used to describe literature where the writing is unnecessarily flowery" and even gives a great example of it:

She lay upon her silken sheets in her ornately embellished robes of satin, her chest ascending and descending easily with every passing second, deep inside the caverns of her subconscious mind.

So why do we see this so much in romance novels?  Well, often the idea is that the flowery language is romantic, for one, and well placed.  It puts you in a certain mood when reading a book.  Whether that's actually true, well, who knows, but the idea is the language is romantic and ornate and makes a reader sign with how wonderful it is and gives you all the warm fuzzies.

The problem is, is that now a days it's crossed over into a lot of fan fiction, young authors using this overdone language because they haven't learned how to properly describe things.  So instead of saying something like, "the girl flipped her dirty blond hair", the author will instead write, "the girl's luscious dark blonde locks shimmered in the bright sunlight as she tossed her head, causing her hair to tumble over her shoulders."

That fan fiction is now getting turned into real life fiction (Fifty Shades of Grey anyone?) and the purple prose that used to get removed by a good editor now just slips right by.

So how can you avoid this in your writing?  Well, my rule for dialogue applies pretty well here too.  Read it out loud.  If you feel REALLY silly saying it, chances are, it's probably pretty silly reading it.

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