The Problem With Purple Prose


If you want your book to read somewhere on the spectrum between Volgon poetry and James Joyce’s notorious Finnegan’s Wake, then purple prose is for you.

While running one of my Indie book seminars we discussed the concept of “purple prose,” which is prose that is too elaborate or ornate. Basically, it’ stringing a bunch of high falutin, fancypants words together to try and impress (or sound smarter than/overwhelm the reader). It’s a trapping of those endowed with big vocabularies.

In my course, when we discussed things to avoid and brief writing (back cover summary, etc.) I read aloud a summary that a writer had sent to me as part of a query while asking for a book review. They obviously meant to impress me. The end result was very, very bad. Unreadable.

Purple prose is flowery, and therein lies the problem: it obfuscates the object of our surveille neath said sheaves of ornate patois. (That means it partly hides what we mean to say.)

The best possible way of telling a story is to simply say why you mean and to say it simply. Purple prose is often a sign of a mediocre story dressed up with fancy words meant to clever it up. To be vulgar: it’s an ugly woman wearing tons of makeup. A better way is to write an amazing story told with as simple of language as possible. That creates the lowest entry level to enjoying your story; a middle school reading level is about right.

This is a prevalent mistake made especially by self-published authors and one I often see in submissions to my review service. It often makes me think of the Friends episode where Joey discovers the thesaurus in Microsoft Word. He changes every single word in a letter he wrote hoping that it will make him sound smarter.



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