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I Suck at Purple Prose


Something occurred to me while writing today. I wrote this line to set the scene, but something about it bothered me:

"It was late afternoon, and the sun would soon set below the hills and turn the sky to deep shades of red and orange."

Eventually it hit me. This line is completely literal. Another author might write it as "Soon, the sky would become a great fiery ceiling and turn the world to a great dome of charcoal" or something of that nature.

The thing is, I actively struggle to write like this, partially because I really don't like the result. I HATE purple prose. I tend to be a very literal person. I'm a believer that metaphor should be applied sparingly, if at all, and only when a precise description has failed. To me, the sky is the sky and to call it anything but the sky is just a waste of breath.

I've heard the advice that I should write from the perspective of my characters, and say things the way they would see them. However, I have a hard time believing that anyone actually thinks that way. I certainly don't go around calling lakes "great wavering mirrors" and what have you. To me, it's a lake that happens to have a reflective surface.

Is it really something that I need to do, though? Like I said, I hate reading purple prose. Can I rely on my literal descriptions, or do you consider this style of writing a necessity?
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Article Team
Description is also used to express emotion. It's not always just literally what a character sees. It's also used to express how a character feels and that's expressed through word choice.

To me, there's a fine line between being descriptive and getting a point across and being ostentatious and cloying. (Now I can cross off ostentatious and cloying from my to-use list :p)
I sometimes feel that writing literally can turn to metaphors later. You can take your literal descriptions from a character POV to reflect that feeling later on.


toujours gai, archie
I do try to write a scene taking into account what my POV character would *notice* but that doesn't mean it gets described the way that character would speak. This is writing in 3rd person, of course, not 1st.

I echo what the others say: if you don't like purple prose, don't try to write it. This is part of finding your voice. Some writing is very straightforward and literal. Some guy named Ernest Hemingway did ok with that approach, so I hear.
Vaporo If you can be evocative without purple prose, then yes. If a work does not make me think or feel (anything) as a response to what I've read... I'm going to start asking why I am reading this work of fiction.

You most certainly do not 'need' purple prose to solicit my attention and introspection.


More often than not, the term 'purple prose' has a negative connotation. So I tend to apply the term to flowery, elaborate, or otherwise ornate prose that isn't done very well.

I personally love well-done ornate prose, most especially in fantasy writing. It helps with the immersion and to convey an alternate world. Since I hear and see 'plain' language most of the day and in most situations, I feel something a little more enhanced is justified in fantasy fiction.

I don't think I'm particularly great at writing it, however, and so strive for something somewhere in between the two extremes. Maybe call it 'spiced-up' language.

But the bottom line is that the voice or style should fit the substance, or reflect it in some way.

Anyone who does not like reading or writing colorful prose shouldn't feel compelled to do so. Indeed, I occasionally feel a little pressure to 'tone it down'.

To thine own self be true.