How to Eliminate Purple Prose from Your Writing
You bought a new book at the bookstore and go home eagerly to read it. Maybe your friends have recommended it to you, maybe the cover just caught your eyes. Either way you sit down and crack open the first page only to be barraged with an outrageous number of adjectives, painful similes, and an endless number of descriptions. What happened? Purple prose happened. So what is purple prose? It’s writing that is too flowery or overdone and doesn’t advance the story. So how do we cut purple prose from our writing? Let’s take a look.
- Does your writing have multiple adjectives and or convoluted metaphors and/or similes? Cut multiple adjectives and replace them with stronger verbs and concrete nouns.
- Does it describe things of significance instead of little details that don’t matter to the plot? Don’t describe everything in the room, only things that will come into play later. Think Checkov’s gun and foreshadowing.
- Is it written simple and clear? Using one word to describe something is better than using two. And don’t abuse your thesaurus or send your readers running for their dictionaries. Your writing should be understandable. Use complex words to be precise about language, not to be pedantic.
- Did you kill your darlings? Even if you are in love with a sentence or descriptions, you have to cut it if it’s calling too much attention to itself. If it’s extraneous and overdone, it has to go. All writing must have a point beyond word count or sounding pretty.
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Now let’s look at an example of purple prose:
Sara sat outside of her quaint, local café which overlooked the charming, quiet, and serene park. The riotous trees donned coats of fiery red, blazoned orange, and lemon yellow leaves and the still verdant grass was littered with desiccated leaves strewn across the green. As for the playground equipment, it had seen better days with electric blue paint cracked and peeling and showing signs of burnt-umber rust, like an old car left out in the rain. She took a sip of her heady and fragrant drink and smiled.
Look at the overuse of adjectives and the tired simile. Also, if the park holds no importance to the story, it’s been described way too much. Now let’s look at that passage without the purple prose:
Sara sat outside the quaint café that overlooked the local park. The trees were a riot of color, donning coats of red, orange, and bright yellow. The leaves littered the remaining grass and the blue playground equipment showed signs of rust. She took a sip of her mocha and smiled, reveling in its heady scent.
We cut a lot of the adjectives, focusing on what descriptions we used. We also used the concrete noun of a mocha instead of the vague drink we had used before. Do you struggle with purple prose in your writing? What tips and tricks do you have to deal with it? Share below and happy writing.