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Most of us have been taught to avoid purple prose… and I agree with that sentiment. Purple prose is overly embellished wording that doesn’t add much, if anything, to the story. So yes, something to be avoided. 100%, no doubt in my mind… but.
Hear me out, okay?
Some of the best books I have ever read have been covered in patches of purple prose. Just enough to tease the tongue and bring your work from genre fiction to something a little bit more literary.
I don’t recommend purple prose… I do recommend purple words.
I love purple words with my whole being. I cannot explain how much excitement I get as a reader when I experience reading a stunning sentence. For me, this usually involves flowery language, beautiful sentence structure and a unique metaphor. I can’t help it… I’m basic.
The problem with purple prose is that it’s generally done to raise the level of writing within a book. It’s usually overly ornate, challenging to follow and underwhelming by the time you get to the end of it.
Purple words, however, shouldn’t be avoided. Don’t be afraid of using purple or flowery language in your novel, but if you’re going to use it, be consistent. Nothing is more disorienting than throwing a random ten-dollar word in amongst two-cent dialogue.
Think of a canvas. You’ve got a beautiful piece covered in neutral colours except for one tiny dot of purple somewhere in the middle. It’s distracting, right? You want to integrate purple into the core of the piece, but in a way that makes it almost a background colour. The purple takes over the place of a neutral and becomes pleasing to the eye, almost unobservable, and built into the core.
It’s easier to remove purple prose than to inject purple into the novel. If you plan to write a purple novel, do so from the beginning. Go ham, write the beautiful overcomplicated story that comes from your heart…. then hit hard with the editing.
When you’re editing a purple passage, there are a couple of different things you can do to simplify the language.
- Reduce Adjectives
- Reduce Verbs
- Shorten sentence length
- Use simpler words
- Clarify terms
If you’re planning on writing purple from the get-go, here are some tips that will help you mellow out the colour and make the editing process easier.
Write in your voice.
Writing in your voice will help you find a balance. You will at least sound like yourself when typing out ornate sentences. Real people don’t usually talk in purple prose, so speaking naturally will dial back the purple pretty quickly.
Use words that you use in real life.
If you wouldn’t use that word in a sentence, don’t put it in your book. If you really want to put a specific word in your book, challenge yourself to use it five times in a conversation first. If you can’t do it, you can’t keep it.
By all means, look up words and find synonyms but if you can’t find a way to use the word you want to in real life, you probably shouldn’t be putting it in your book. It will feel forced and unnatural.
When you can use a word seamlessly because you’ve integrated it into your daily vernacular it makes the sentence more believable.
Use overly complicated words sparingly.
The number of times that I’ve been reading some genre fiction and have randomly had to google a word in the middle, I swear… Stop it. Stop it right now.
When you begin writing your book, you are writing for a certain type of reader. If you randomly have an overly complicated or specific niche word in your book, it will throw your reader right off the page.
It’s a pet peeve of mine.
Don’t make me grab a dictionary… just keep in line with the rest of your novel and use the simple word. If you use a bunch of complex or niche words of the bat, your reader will know what to expect when jumping in. Don’t make an easy summer read a vocabulary lesson.
Focus on the plot.
Every sentence should add to the story. If your beautiful sentence does nothing, it should go.
As always, I cannot wait to see you on the bookshelf.