Purple Prose: What It Is And How To Avoid It

Purple is great as a color, but not great for writing.

Purple prose is writing that is unnecessarily wordy, filled with clichés or overworked figurative language that is inappropriate for context or genre. When writing becomes excessively flowery or melodramatic it loses meaning. Purple is great as a color but not great for writing.

Often we fall into these bouts of purple when we’re lost on how to move forward, or when we’re forcing something to work. There are famous writers known for their vivid descriptions and writers known for simple, uncomplicated prose. When we know that both can exist at the same time, it’s hard to understand why purple prose might be problematic.

Good writing doesn’t mean simple and unadorned, but it does require mindfulness. So, how do we watch out for purple prose in our own writing?

To avoid purple prose, ask yourself three questions:

Am I in control?

Does my language achieve what I want it to? Remember to give your readers some credit. They’re not rookies to this reading game and can figure out inferences and emphasis without you filling in those details. Allow the reader’s imagination to take on some of the work.

Are my words appropriate to my context?

Avoid words that are overly complicated for a scene, context, or genre. Don’t try to show off or put on airs as a writer, especially when such acts of self-aggrandizement diminish credibility in the eyes of your readers.

Too much? Too Little? Or Just Right?

Descriptors and figurative language all have a purpose in writing, but it’s important to consider whether not excessive description has caused sensory overload. Again, give your readers some credit and let their imaginations do some of the heavy lifting.

There are no accidents in writing. It’s the job of a writer to make sure each word achieves its intended purpose in a way that is meaningful to both the writer and the reader. This applies to novel writing as much as it does to speech writing or journalism. To avoid purple prose, choose your words wisely and well.