If you have been writing for any amount of time, you have most likely heard this phrase. Purple prose, the bane of every writers existence. A catch all word for any time an author is writing just for the sake of writing. There isn’t a reason for the paragraph or page (or chapter, looking at you Victor Hugo) of words and description. It is there because the author thought it sounded pretty.
Or so they say anyway.
Writing advice now tells us to slash all bits of purple prose out of our writing, to take out anything that doesn’t have three different reasons to exist. Every phrase, every paragraph, must have a purpose other than to look pretty.
On the surface, the advice sounds great! Of course I don’t want to info dump, or to bore my readers with descriptions of characters and places that may or may not have anything to do with my novel.
But then I wonder, what would happen to a classic novel if I did that?
Far From the Madding Crowd would be a short story. O Pioneers would cease to exist. Both are chock full of lavish descriptions that only have loose ties to the story. Do those bits of purple prose have to be in those novels? Absolutely not, the story would go right along without them.
But so would half of their fans. We love those stories because of the descriptions, because of the way they were written, sometimes just as much as what was written. Can you imagine Fahrenheit 451 without the streams of thought and wonderings about the world? It would be a completely different story.
These stories were defined by their beautiful prose, and I think that if we took that out, those stories would cease to be beautiful as well.
The point of purple prose is to be beautiful. And when it shows up, it makes a story beautiful as well.
No no, I am not advocating info dumps, or random descriptions thrown in at random times. Unless of course you are Victor Hugo or Thomas Hardy, who can do whatever they want and still become famous.
What I am trying to say, is that prose is worthwhile. Writing for the sake of words is why we became writers in the first place. In essence, to write is to have a love affair with words. Prose is what makes our bare bones of a story into a work of art. The color in the picture.
Prose is where the voice of the writer comes into play. How you write descriptions and explain characters is uniquely your own. If you follow the bare minimum, your story will sound like a million other stories out there. Prose is what makes it stand out from all the rest.
So don’t be afraid of it. Throw in a bit of purple prose. Write because the words are pretty. If it ends up being too much, there is always the backspace.