Most Common Mistakes (Purple Prose)

Most Common Writing Mistakes, Pt. 63: Purple Prose

Most Common Mistakes (Purple Prose)Words, glorious words! Fellow logophiles, were we not initially drawn to writing because of our sesquipedal amours? We love words. We love big words, arcane words, chewy words, beautiful words. We love combinations of words that are bold, poetic, eloquent, and sometimes even showy. So it’s little wonder many of us risk creating purple prose.

Purple prose (a rather delicious little phrase in its own right) indicates writing that is not just elaborate, but too elaborate. It is writing that tries to be bold, poetic, and eloquent—but mostly just ends up trying too hard.

Let’s be honest: we’d all like to write with the same beauty and adroitness as Shakespeare, Faulkner, and Atwood (with a few heaping tablespoons of David Guterson, Frances Mayes, and Ann Voskamp thrown in there).

Let’s also be honest: our attempts to mimic these prosaic masters sometimes end up looking more like a child’s recreation of the Eiffel tower. A little sloppy, a little cockeyed, and quite obviously fake.

Today, let’s examine what purple prose is, how to recognize when you’re creating it, and how to write genuinely excellent prose in its place.

What Is Purple Prose?

The trouble is authors don’t always know when they’ve wandered into purple prose. There you are, just trying to create memorable and original sentences. You’re grappling to reach beyond the ordinary and cliched to find an authorial voice that is truly beautiful and pertinent.

But then you get your manuscript back from your editor all covered in red slashes that mostly read: Purple Prose. What??? How can your beautiful, hard-fought-for, unique prose be a bad thing?

At its essence, purple prose can be summed up in one word: overblown. Purple prose is an elaborate, gauche costume that, more often than not, simply covers up a lack of depth in the story itself. It is the essence of Shakespeare’s “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

5 Ways to Spot Purple Prose

Purple prose is:

1. Pretentious

Pretentious prose spends all its time strutting about and striking poses. It pretends to be unassuming, but is really just consumed with make sure readers notice it. Largely, this is accomplished by throwing around a big vocabulary just for the sake of throwing it around. It flies directly in the face of Rules 2, 3, and 5 of George Orwell’s practicalities of sound writing:

2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.

3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.

5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.

The right word in the right place is always the right word. If “pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis” is that word, readers won’t flinch at it. But if “black lung” would have been the better choice, the longer, more pretentious word will always end up turning purple on you.

2. Hyper-Metaphorical

We want to write like Arundhati Roy in The God of Small Things:

It was raining when Rahel came back to Ayemenem. Slanting silver  ropes slammed into loose earth, plowing it up like gunfire.

We do not want to write like this infamous satire on poor student metaphors:

Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.

Or like this:

She was beautiful like a starry night, like a racehorse, like a dream come true. She wafted through the room, fairy wings on her feet, spreading grace and goodwill like confetti at a ticker-tape parade. Queen of all our hearts, she was a veritable moon goddess.

Maybe there’s a decent metaphor in there somewhere, but mostly it’s just way, way, way too much. Not only will this kind of writing make it sound like the author is showing off, it will ultimately and ironically end up distracting from whatever it’s actually describing.

Metaphors are the heart of poetry. But no metaphor is far better than the wrong metaphor—or, worse, the wrong metaphors.

3. Overly Formal

Purple prose often originates because the author is attempting to write as properly as possible. We want to do it right. That means no contractions, no fragments, no unbuttoning the top-collar button.

This is especially tempting for authors who love classic literature. Austen, Tolstoy, and Brontës wrote in a far different style than we do today. It worked for them largely because that was how they talked back then. And their writing still attracts us today because it is beautiful. You can’t beat a passage like this from Jane Eyre:

Do you think I can stay to become nothing to you? Do you think I am an automaton?—a machine without feelings? and can bear to have my morsel of bread snatched from my lips, and my drop of living water dashed from my cup? Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? You think wrong!—I have as much soul as you,—and full as much heart! And if God had gifted me with some beauty and much wealth, I should have made it as hard for you to leave me, as it is now for me to leave you. I am not talking to you now through the medium of custom, conventionalities, nor even of mortal flesh;—it is my spirit that addresses your spirit; just as if both had passed through the grave, and we stood at God’s feet, equal,—as we are!

It’s so beautiful it makes you want to go out and start throwing around “thous” and “wherefores” and reckless comma/em-dash combos. But trust me on this: you’re not Charlotte Brontë.

In writing your modern-day tale of star-crossed lovers, resist the urge to have them all start speaking like Elizabethan courtiers. Write like you speak, like your characters speak.

Which brings us to purple prose that is…

4. Inappropriate

The fundamental problem with purple prose is that it puts the prose at odds with the plot. You’re telling a story about a coal miner’s daughter, but you’re writing it like it’s about a ostentatious English professor.

Stories do not exist to showcase words. Rather, words exist to tell stories.

Before you ever start worrying about creating beautiful prose, you must first concern yourself with choosing the appropriate words for building your story. This starts with the tenor of the story itself and further narrows its focus to the specific personalities, attitudes, and backgrounds of your characters.

George Smiley is not going to sound like Romeo Capulet. Scout Finch is not going to sound like Elizabeth Bennet. Stephanie Plum is not going to sound like Tess of the d’Urbervilles. And vicey-verse (as the immortal Tigger would say).

All of these are great characters for the simple reason that they were allowed to sound like themselves and no one else. Whether in narrative or dialogue, purple prose distracts from characterization. Some characters will authentically talk using the words and phrases in the previous examples. If so, awesome. If not, remember your Hippocratic oath: “First, do no harm”—to the characters.

5. Inauthentic

I remember clearly the day I was first able to use the delicious word “rapprochement” (complete with French pronunciation–in my mind, anyway). I remember my great pride; but mostly, I remember how dumb it was.

I wasn’t using the word because it was a perfect fit for my article (which had something or other to do with horses). Instead, I was using it because I knew it would make me look ridiculously suave and smart. Everyone who read my article would undoubtedly be thinking: “Wow, ‘rapprochement’! I have no idea what that means. This author must be so smart!”

Beyond simply making word choices that are sensible for your characters and your story, you must also be realistic in choosing words that will serve your authentic authorial voice.

Does this mean “rapprochement” must be irrevocably returned to the French? Of course not. But it does mean you need to be honest about why you’re choosing words. Is it because it’s a word you’ve fully mastered and integrated into your vocabulary—rather than just randomly pulling it out of a thesaurus (as I did)? Is it because it’s the right word for the sentence? Is it because no other word could achieve quite the same effect?

Or is it because you want to look brilliant and awesome and loftily poetic?

Want to find and perfect your personal authorial voice? All you have to do is stop trying to write like someone else. You’re not Shakespeare or Plath, so don’t even go there. By all means, learn from them. Let Dickens teach you a few new words. Even steal a “wherefore” or two on the appropriate occasion. But do so only because the word choices are yours and are selected thanks to a rounded view of your story and the tools that will best serve to construct it.


We all write purple prose sometimes. In our necessary experimentation with words and wordplay, the purple will inevitably spill out sometimes. And that’s fine. Some of my best writing emerges only after I’ve carefully sculpted a passage that originated as a blob of overblown pretension.

What’s important is realizing what purple prose is, so you’re able to recognize it. After that, correcting purple prose requires nothing more or less than the single most fundamental technique of good writing: examining every word, deleting sub-par choices, and replacing them with vocabulary and phrasing optimized to help you create a powerfully effective narrative.

>>Click here to read more posts in the Most Common Writing Mistakes Series.

Wordplayers, tell me your opinion! Do you ever struggle with purple prose? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Irrevenant says

    Awesome points, thank you.

    One exception for #2 that I think is worth mentioning is where that sort of language is used for character voice rather than authorial voice. The “She was beautiful like a starry night” etc. etc. sounds to me exactly like how a geeky teenager who reads (and writes?) far too much fanfictiom might talk (or think) about their first love.

    I have no idea what sort of person would think like the first example but honestly, I’d probably read a novel about them. xD

    • Michael Saltar says

      Now that’s funny. I’ve seen my kids read books with characters like that. Entertaining unto itself.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Agreed. Characterization is the great rule breaker. Anything goes if it’s accurately representing the character.

  2. Michael Saltar says

    You described my freshman year at college. My English professor was the first person I had ever met who wasn’t impressed with my voluminous vocabulary. I was insulted, but she did me a big favor. And here you go again—keeping my writing humble. Excellent lesson today!

  3. Another excellent post.

    I would add one caveat – when the narrator (1st person or 3rd person, single character POV) wants to signal a transformation from pomposity and insufferable verbosity to a “normal” state. Think of the one time in Harry Potter where Prof. Trelawney lost her temper AND her airy-fairy voice.

    And then there is Mark Twain’s infamous joke tucked at the beginning of chapter IV in his Double-Barreled Detective Story. I’ll not give it away here, but it is well worth researching.

    As always, keep up the fine work. Well done again.

  4. While in general most of your comments make sense, it does depend a little on your readers’ backgrounds.
    What might seem pretentious to an American, may be viewed very differently to a British reader. Conversely, much American prose… particularly on-line and in ‘popular’ writing… feels either lazily written, or lacking in depth.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ultimately, word choice is always about what’s right for the story.

      • Very true, Katie… ‘Under Milk Wood’ would be nothing without the often bizarre use of words. I sometimes wonder if it works when read by someone who doesn’t automatically ‘hear’ it in a Welsh accent… Maybe that’s why the audio version read by Richard Burton is so iconic. His voice brings Dylan Thomas’s imagery to life. (But then, it was always intended for radio broadcast – Check it out on YouTube. It’s beautiful.)

    • Sally Chetwynd says

      “[Much] American prose … feels either lazily written, or lacking in depth.”

      I agree with you here. This goes for many readers, too – not all, by any means, but a growing number as our culture encourages continued dumbing-down. In my current WIP, some of my beta readers have pointed out that I am using some vocabulary that they believe is above my intended audience. I don’t know why they might think I have some extraordinary educational background. I don’t. Raised in a middle-class family in rural Maine, I have a B.A. in liberal arts but no graduate work. I have worked blue-collar and white-collar jobs. I have a broad range of interests outside of work and read widely in topics on American history.

      Most of the words they highlight for which they needed a dictionary are words that I first learned in books I read as a child – children’s classics like “The Jungle Books” and “The Wizard of Oz,” horse, dog, and animal stories galore, you name it. I can’t agree that I use vocabulary over my readers’ heads when this is vocabulary they should have been exposed to a long time ago, as children, too. And if they haven’t been exposed to these words, the context in which these words appear should reveal their meaning painlessly.

      I see more books all the time that are not only lazily written but lazily edited; by association, they may also be lazily read. Lazy writing does not provide depth. If the author isn’t interested in developing the story fully, why should I, the reader, invest myself in it?

      • Quite true, Sally. Sadly far fewer people read at all, particularly children. They get all their story telling as moving talking images on a screen.

        When I was a kid, TV wasn’t broadcast all day (in the UK) and ‘children’s hour’ was just that… an hour (with ‘Watch With Mother’ earlier for the really little ones.)
        Because of this, we read books and comics (though rarely the American comics with superheroes). Our heroes were normal humans in exciting situations, like WW2, Space exploration, sport, and for girls hospitals, schools and other scenes deemed suitable.
        By around age ten, I and many of my contemporaries were reading the thrillers and adventures our fathers had finished with. A diet of James Bond, The Saint, and pulp detective and sci-fi novels soon replaced the books we’d grown out of.
        Our vocabulary grew exponentially… though not always the kinds of words our teachers and parents really wanted us to know.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Frankly, it always irritates me when a reader suggests that a word shouldn’t be used because it isn’t common. I always ignore that. If, however, they suggest that word doesn’t work and/or doesn’t fit, that I always pay attention to.

          • “If, however, they suggest that word doesn’t work and/or doesn’t fit, that I always pay attention to.”

            Which is all part of the editing, anyway… Sadly many books get published without proper editing.

            I’ve edited some real howlers, sometimes from authors who simply had a mental block… and my editor has often suggested better words for me to use. That’s what an editor is for.

      • I’ve had a similar issue, and I found that I have to define a word as it’s being used. In my case, for my Greco-Roman fantasy, I used a word I saw often in the Bible: “vinedresser.” I have a character who has a vineyard, and that’s what the people who work in a vineyard are called. It’s one word, and is quicker than saying “people who work in the vineyard.”

        However, a few beta readers stumbled over “vinedresser,” as too fancy and mystifying. I was stumped by what alternative word I could use. The modern “winegrower” sounds inappropriate for the era, and also sounds weird to me. Winegrower to me is like calling a shepherd a “sweater-grower.” The sweater isn’t growing, the wine isn’t growing, but the sheep and the grapes are 🙂

        I resolved the problem by defining the word in context the first time it’s used. So first I just used the longer “workers in the vineyard.” Then in dialogue about them, the protagonist calls them “vinedressers.” It’s obvious that this is the word for those particular workers, as if she called the keepers of sheep “shepherds.”

        Later in the story the characters refer to certain alloys by their Greco-Roman era names, and having learned my lesson with “vinedresser” I immediately describe the alloys, which don’t exist anymore. One is used in fantasy video games, but the other one is mostly mentioned in scholarly journals; it doesn’t even appear in my unabridged dictionary. It’s really tricky when the appropriate word is unusual, but the alternative jars the reader, like calling the silphium plant by it’s other name, “laser.”

        My goal is to keep the reader immersed without having to send them to the dictionary if I can help it (and I can’t help it if they just have a poor vocabulary, period). I use the method I outlined for old fashioned words because I’ve reluctantly accepted that not everyone reads books that were written before they were born. I want to tempt them to look at the old stuff, but I have to be accessible with my stuff first.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Context is everything. When the intent is clear from the context, that’s how we learn new words.

    • Hear, hear!

  5. A solid summary of purple dangers and their causes, thanks.

    I’ve always thought there’s a single test for purple prose: it makes readers notice the line itself more than the thing it’s describing and its place in the moment. (Stolen from Robert Asprin: “Your clothes should call attention to you, not themselves.”) When a line stands out more than it pushes people on to the next line, it’s a problem.

    Also, there’s one other factor in purple prose: how consistently you flirt with it. If you use heavy description or amped-up dialogue in every page–and hopefully do it well and don’t drown in it–readers expect and want it; see Quentin Tarantino’s flashy speeches. (Doubly so if it’s a genre known for those, of course.) But prose looks its purplest when your writing on something has been laid back and then suddenly a line tries too hard.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, style is definitely a factor. Once readers are introduced to a style, they will accept it and except it to be consistent.

  6. Yes, learning to recognize them is huge.
    Many times i find myself gushing with purple prose as i write. But that’s okay. i try to keep my first draft fearless, putting it all down in it’s superfluous glory. Then later, going back and combing through them, i smooth them down into something fitting. No harm in starting out purple, so long as you end up in more varied shades. 😉

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Sometimes you can’t find the really exceptional writing unless you’re willing to go a little overboard in the first draft.

  7. Billy Hinshaw says

    It’s a perpetual balancing act! Authors like Ernest Hemingway and poets like Charles Bukowski–among countless others–provided a blueprint for literature that made for sparse and straightforward use of vocabulary, all for the evolution of literature as we know it today, and moving forward. Where I struggle as a writer is knowing where that balance is, knowing how much my story needs the words, based on its structure or subject matter, the action and dialogue, the flow and style I want to achieve. I want to neither read nor write a story that would bore me or others to death. But then again, where do we allow the everyday poetry within fiction’s depiction (and non-fiction’s, for that matter) to flourish?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s largely a matter of the author’s personal voice. We would be thrown if Hemingway started writing like Faulkner–and vice versa. Many of my favorite books I love as much for their ornate prose as their stories.

      • Sally Chetwynd says

        I prefer prose that is richer in narrative than Hemingway’s work. He’s too stark for my taste. But as the French say, “Chacun à son goût” (Each to his own taste). If Hemingway weren’t a literary great, he wouldn’t be celebrated as such. But that’s why we have chocolate and vanilla – something for everybody.

        I have found that some genres tend to get pigeon-holed into certain cliched writing – I think erotica tends to be heavily laced with purple prose, and those who work in this genre and want professional recognition have a tough barrier to surmount. I hadn’t been expecting this in a novel I acquired recently from another local author – she bills her work as “women’s fiction” – and it was pretty hot and heavy. The story line was great and many facets of it were unique, but I would have liked a more polished approach to the story line and less emphasis on the erotic scenes. (A gay man I’ve befriended on another writers’ forum lamented in frustration over being typecast by people who tell him they won’t read his novels because they assume that his writing will only be about “agitated zippers.” Now THERE’S an original phrase!) It’s a tiny bit of poetry that lightly touches down and grabs your attention without landing like a ton of bricks.

        You’re right – it’s a perpetual balancing act, and every story has a different balance.

  8. Wonderful post! Purple prose will forever remind me of a Ranger’s Apprentice book in which Will, trying to deliver an important speech, spews humongous words (frustrating for the other characters, humorous for the reader).

    In my WIP, a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, I have more room for poetic language, but I have to guard closely against falling into purple prose. So far, beta reader feedback has been mostly positive. Whew!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That Ranger’s Apprentice example sounds really fun. The great thing about being aware of your word choices is that it gives you the opportunity to purposefully break the norm to good effect now and then.

    • Perfect example in Ranger’s Apprentice. And if we as writers learn the same lesson Will did – to speak from the heart – we may find our writing both clearer and more moving.

    • My daughter loves that series; I even made her a cloak so she could be Will for Halloween! I can’t wait to get her to show me that speech. She also writes, and has multiple novels in progress. (She’s twelve.) I’ll be curious to see whether she imitates or learns from Will’s mistake. (I’ve only read her current WIP, and only once, because we both know I wouldn’t be able to stop myself from editing, and I DON’T want to do that, at least until she wants me to!)

  9. This article makes some great points. Some of my characters are not American, and they may use a French word like Bonjour, and I have no problem with that, as they are staying in character. For a fine example of lovely writing without excess, I recommend the author Amor Towles. The Rules of Civility and A Gentleman in Moscow were, imo, beautifully written novels that could have easily slipped into purple prose due to the type of stories they told, but the author kept things perfectly balanced.

  10. I now have this strange need to go through everything I have ever written looking for purple prose.

  11. A friend was reading Shark Dialogues and would call and quote some of the lines. We had a good laugh trying to decipher the intentions of her metaphors and vocabulary. Still the book has done well. As a joke I wrote in a smilar way some pages of a new story and sent it to one of my editors as a preview expecting to get slaughtered….oh no, she loved it…now what? Is she joking? Running away to hide now…..

  12. Sparksofember says

    Regarding personal voice, though, some people use it as an excuse. If your editor or betas are pointing out purple prose, odds are it’s not your voice. If you’re having to make excuses for it, then it’s not fitting the piece. (If it’s coming from more than one person at least.)

  13. Gosh, this brings back memories of when I first started writing (in my teens). I had thought the more complicated the word, the better the writer! My prose was purple back then for sure. Some of my cohorts’ were ultraviolet. 🙂 It definitely is about the voice. I’ve reined in my purple prose, but I keep writing narrators who are ever-so-slightly snarky. It’s hard developing a unique voice for your characters!

    Tangentially: a friend of mine recced your books and I devoured both your boxsets yesterday; they blew my mind! (I am now working through your blog archives.) Really love the way you lay out the craft of writing. I hope you’ll put the Character Arc book/workbook into a boxset eventually (it’s not about the price for me, but I like having the highlights and annotations in the same file since the two books are meant to be used together. But you just published the Character Arc workbook so I know it’ll be a while even if it’s in the cards. 🙂 )

    Thank you for all you do to help writers!

  14. I think this is a great article. I take out fluffy words during my editing; and I’m ruthless.

  15. Thank you for some reminders. I think that I am always sinner of every writing mistake, but here we are to learn!
    I read the title and I just thought about Despicable Me “It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!”
    Well, is what I think when I read purple prose. 😀

  16. In college, I was in a fiction writing course with a guy whose stories were so dense with $5 words that I wore my dictionary out trying to get through them. He used to ridicule my simple language until I finally got to read one of his for the first time. It contained this nugget that has stayed with my for over 15 years: “seemingly insouciant sidewalk.” A sidewal that wasn’t nonchalant, but appeared to be. I don’t even know what that would mean. Was it “chalant” but made an effort to appear otherwise. An uncommonly self-aware bit of concrete.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hah. The one that’s stuck with me is the completely unnecessary use of “crepuscular” to describe the twilight in a sci-fi novel.

  17. One of my writer friends was critiquing a synopsis of mine and mentioned “Cut the fluff” to me, a quote I remember quite often to remind me of avoiding purple prose. Only now I may be guilty of writing *too* plainly… whoops! This post really helped me better understand exactly how to avoid “the fluff”. Thank you so much!

    Just wanted to say that after reading Behold the Dawn, I had to get Dreamlander, and after eating that alive and loving it I had to buy Storming, which I’m reading now. I was actually wanting to purchase A Man Called Outlaw first, but I wasn’t able to find it on iBooks. Is there another place I can purchase it? I’m kind of on a mission to read all of your books. 😉


  18. What about non-English words that don’t have a English equivalent word? Like Yokai, it is Japanese concept that has many different translations in English. Yokai are a class of supernatural monsters, spirits and demons in Japanese folklore. Yōkai range diversely from the malevolent to the mischievous, or occasionally bring good fortune to those who encounter them. Often they possess animal features (such as the kappa, which is similar to a turtle, or the tengu which has wings), other times they can appear mostly human, some look like inanimate objects and others have no discernible shape. Yōkai usually have spiritual or supernatural power, with shapeshifting being one of the most common. Yōkai that have the ability to shapeshift are called bakemono or obake.

    • I ask, as I am writing an Urban Fantasy series set in modern day Japan. It is necessary to use Japanese concepts that have no English equivalent words

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Absolutely nothing wrong with unique, foreign, or arcane words–as long as they are the right words for the situation.

  19. DirectorNoah says

    I must admit, I’m terribly guilty of purple prose. Not by using pretentious words, but with luscious metaphors and flowery melodramatic descriptions. After writing one or two solid pages of this (insert grimace), I sit back, very pleased with my wonderful passages of dialogue and poetic language, and sounding like a Shakespearean pro, only to realise nearly all of it was overblown and unnecessary. It’s so tempting for me to write long, beautiful descriptions and so hard to cut it out after it’s written. A few of my friends like this form of wordplay, but I’ve since learnt that this kind of prose is poor writing. Of course, this all depends on the writer’s style, character voice and the type of genre, but generally, I would say less is more.
    My own motto for avoiding this kind of purple prose is, keep it short and sweet. A few, well-crafted sentences are more powerful, and can say more things, than a hundred sentences.
    Thank you for a very useful article, and for reminding me to keep that purple under control! 😀

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Your motto is spot on. You may have to trim a lot from your initial writings, but I bet you find some lovely gems in there.

  20. Bryan Fagan says

    I remember taking up five pages to describe someone opening a door. Yes, every page was covered in red. It looked like a murder scene.

  21. I’m still laughing as I mull over what you say about purple prose as I spent many hours when writing my first novel going for precisely that showy effect. At the time I thought my super-metaphors were exactly that – super. But now I’m not so sure.The reviewers – so far – have been enthusiastic about my efforts.Yet what you say rings true. I have gilded every sentence, weighed down every phrase with metaphor.Getting to the meaning of a sentence a reader needs a strong pair of secateurs to cut back all the images under which it is hidden. There is nothing pared down about my prose.
    But, in my defence, I loved writing it. It made me smile, gave me so much joy, and allowed me the opportunity to really play with language.
    However, I’m now working on my second novel, and, whereas I still let my pen run away with itself at times, I’ve noticed that I’ve taken to deleting its more excessive flights of purple prose fancy. A sign of progress? Could be…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Nothing wrong with making every sentence beautiful–as long as you’re achieving the effect you’re going for. I once read a book in which every sentence sounded as if it was out of an epic poem. It *was* gorgeous, but it weighed heavy after a while, sort of like eating handful after handful of candy.

  22. True poetry is concise. In narrative, you have more room to balance. I wrote something a few weeks ago that, upon memory, seems a tad ‘epic.’ I just went over it and its not bad, not even all that metaphorical.

  23. I suspect the following is overdosing on purple prose. I would like to use it to end my short story. I guess, I shall have to call a paramedic.

    With bloody teeth, and a wicked glare, raising her head before him. Falling; he descends into her hollow depths, her eyes reposing upon the veneer of his smile, as he glides a hand, slowly pressing down a finger or two; rapprochantly upon her skin. He curves into her grin as she weeps; conceding tears which fall into the open palm of his hungry claw – She reprobates the sweetness of his reflection, with dead eyes fierily; burning like fire.

    Thank you for your words.

    • BookCrush says

      Honesty… I saw a purple dragon on your text.
      Narrative must to be unpersonal, at least if is an onmipresent narrator, contraire if is a witness narrator.
      Sweet is good in a dessert, but being sweeter is lost the receipe. I like a bit the prosic lines, but if that descrives nothing, something is fail.
      I hope you can check your phrases and made some cuts and adds, if that was one of last scenes, it deserve it

  24. What a great blog and post! I definitely am guilty of purple prose at times. Sometimes you just want to play with the language. The reminder to get rid of useless words is always a good one.

  25. Purple prose being nothing but pomp and pretense is such a plebeian and puerile opinion! (See what I did there? Not only did I point out my irony but insulted my reader’s intelligence but pointing out that I did!) I suppose there is little room for plot when you’re persistently polishing every sentence. Personally, I can’t get enough of it but I realise that it’s sole purpose is to peacock and pound my chest with my masterfully crafted poetic pageantry.

    But seriously, I do love it just as much as a good story. It’s music for the eyes and always puts a smile on my face. Nabokov over Hemingway but Orwell over Nabokov. I just have a soft-spot for purple prose due to an adolescence spent with my face in Keats and Byron.

    Fitzgerald sucks though. Hahahahaha.

    Thanks for baring with me on this obnoxious joke of a comment! I really do love your articles.

  26. Sasheena says

    Thanks for the help! While I was reading this, it brought to mind one scene from my WIP where the character is a 12-year old girl who just lost her mother and is flying, with her four sisters, to live with her aunt in a foreign country. I *LIKE* the way it comes out, but wonder if it’s breaking the rules. She’s lived an unhappy life with an indifferent mother who married and divorced frequently, so she has experienced no stability in her life. (background info for before this moment) it’s not a YA book – I jump POV as a deliberate choice throughout, but this is Angel’s chapter.

    From my WIP:
    Angel realized in that moment that Gregorio was anxious to be with his wife. She felt a sense of disorientation. Never before had she seen that level of care between her mother and the men who were in her life. Watching his face when he spied Wraith standing on the tarmac was the most peculiar feeling. She felt like a whole herd of butterflies in her stomach wanted to escape and then sing a lullaby into her ear. She felt like her heart had been cuddled by a baby bunny. She stopped halfway down the stairs and Gregorio paused to look up at her. “Are you okay Angel?”

  27. BookCrush says

    I am part of a literatury group which made the same homework each month. Recently I was reading my work’s partners. And one of them write a “scene” filled by antologies/metaphores, and too poetic lenguage. All works we hung them online, so the rest can give their opinion. All said, “I like it”, but none understand what means all those words. In my native lenguage, I’m not familarizate with the therm ” purple”. But I felt I must to be honest and tell why this story doesnt works. Get to much and doesnt have an story. So many beauty words turned confuse even to express feelings.
    Im glad for logical, intuition or unconscience knowledge I can exponed many point explained here.

    For me, a line “purple” could be good, but not all paraphers. The story has to be easy to understand, not fighting to figurate which all florid words means.

    Sorry for my mistakes, English is not my mother lenguage.

  28. I enjoy the opportunity when I get to write characters who naturally talk more poetically. I just a historical mystery a few months ago, and I loved getting to play around with the different voices. The heroine was highly educated and grew in pre-WWI France, so she talked more eloquently. But another had been a soldier and a cop most of his life and wasn’t much of a reader, so his phrases were more straight and plain. Looking to playing with POV in my next book!

  29. In my admittedly limited experience, purple prose is used when the author is trying to describe something they themselves are unsure of. While this is particularly common in “matters of the heart,” it can also appear in introductions to characters or their descriptions (It feels uncomfortable for a reason. Just don’t do it).

    My works in Gothic Horror are challenging to write because the narrative prose is a, dare I say it, bland backdrop for the dialogue. Since the characters are either highly educated or immortal, instead it is the dialogue that is justifiably eloquent. Using this, I can maintain the mood of the original books, while keeping the larger narrative inviting.

    The conclusion I gained from this was that purple prose is not a sign of poor writing, so long as words are used correctly, but a sign of poor understanding. So if I see purple prose I take it as a sign to further educate myself on what I am trying to depict.


  1. […] word counts in writing. K.M. Weiland shows the dangers of purple prose (and how to avoid it), while Dawn Field has 7 attributes of exquisite […]

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