Purple Dinosaurs aren’t the Only Bad Purple #atozchallenge

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No one’s beat up on Barney the Purple Dinosaur in eons, it seems. Is he even still on TV?

Unfortunately, his literary companion, purple prose, is. And like all unfortunate things, it shouldn’t be.

So let’s talk about it. Let’s learn to identify it so you can revise it out and avoid notes like Aaack! Who let the purple prose monster in here! or, if I don’t know you as well, This is veering a bit toward purple prose. How about wording it like this as an alternate?

I like to write fun comments.

Urban Dictionary (I kid you not) defines purple prose as, “a term used to describe literature where the writing is unnecessarily flowery. it means that the writer described the situation (or wrote the entire book, passage, etc) using words that are too extravagant for the type of text, or any text at all. basically, over-describing something. with stupid words.”

Now, I don’t know if I’d go so far as to add with stupid words on at the end there. Because obviously, if you wrote them, you didn’t think they were stupid, and since you haven’t revised them out yet, you continue to think they’re not stupid.

But over-describing, unnecessarily flowery writing… yep, that’s purple prose. I swear, we’re taught to write purple in high school, when English teachers everywhere encourage it as a model for good writing.

This is why you need to read a lot. A. Lot. And not just read but also pay attention as you read. Do you have a description of a room? Look at how the book you’re reading describes the room. Is your heroine overwrought? Examine how the writer of the book you’re reading describes it.

After you’ve observed until your eyes glaze over, come back to your own manuscript. Is your writing as clear? Does it snap? Purple prose never snaps. It goes on. And on. And sometimes on. And you stop caring.

The bedspread was quilted, by hand, Sienna was willing to bet, in four shades of yellow, from the palest Alpine glow to the brightest, sunniest yellow she could imagine. Just looking at it made her break out into a wide, uncontrollable grin that threatened to consume her entire face and half of her soul, too. But her favorite was the slightly less yellow than that brightest one, the one that merely suggested summer days and didn’t scream them and even though it didn’t make her smile as hard, she still wanted to smile. This one was a tender smile, touching her lips gently and caressing her soul with a soft spring wind.

“Hey, Sienna? I asked what you thought of Glen.”

Yeah… you see what I mean? Contrast that with this:

Sienna paused by the bed, letting her fingers run over the bedspread as she considered her best friend’s question. The spread was done in shades of yellow, the brightest of which reminded Sienna of Jenny’s smile whenever she talked about this Glen dude. But Sienna wasn’t feeling the love. What she felt was more like the pale yellow, a wariness, a hesitance to commit. “I see what you like about him,” she said carefully, her fingers picking the pattern of the perfect stitches, then finding one that was off.

“Isn’t he the greatest?” Jenny flopped on the other side of the bed, away from Sienna, and grabbed a stuffed rabbit, which she cradled to her chest.”

“I know you think he’s great,” Sienna said, trying to pick her words, “but you just met him a week ago. Maybe you should get to know him before you proclaim true love?”

While I say to my high schoolers all the time that sometimes curtains are blue just because they are blue, sometimes, the teachers are right and they’re blue for a bigger reason.

But they don’t need to be purple.

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1 Comment

  1. Sandra Ulbrich Almazan

    April 19, 2017 8:37 am

    When I think of purple prose, I think of using long, multi-syllabic words instead of short ones.

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