…Or the prose formally known as poetry
Often, when a writer transitions from poetry to prose there’s a grand learning curve to tackle. Writing is writing is writing, but writing poetry is vastly different than prose, just like writing fiction is vastly different than a term paper. Different skill sets are required, and different rules must be applied in order to accomplish the goals required in each discipline. In poetry you’re expected to use sensory descriptors, imagery, and words/phrases that evoke emotions. Well, in prose you’re supposed to do that too…but not quite to the same degree.
The term purple prose is somewhat of a misnomer and is due to the inadequacies of translations from Latin to English. The term was “coined” in 18 B.C. (yeah, it is freaking that old) by Horace. Horace, the Roman poet, criticized (reviewed) a fellow writer, Piso, in his Ars Poetica. Horace’s justification for using purple prose sparingly is appropriately right on the money:
“Your opening shows great promise, and yet flashy
purple patches; as when describing
a sacred grove, or the altar of Diana,
or a stream meandering through fields,
or the river Rhine, or a rainbow;
but this was not the place for them. If you can realistically render
a cypress tree, would you include one when commissioned to paint
a sailor in the midst of a shipwreck?”
Being overly elegant, overly descriptive, and overly detailed in your imagery in places where it doesn’t belong is a detriment to your story telling. Long fluffy sentences are good to use ONLY when you want to slow down the pace of the story. Everywhere else, purple prose will break the flow of the story and actually bump your readers out of the headspace you want them in. I’ve done it, gotten to a lull in a story where the author is being way dramatic and overly illustrative and I’ve skipped ahead. Yeah, I’ll admit it. Because EVERYONE does it…don’t you deny it. *points* I know you’ve done it too.
If you need another reason to take it easy on the high end descriptors, here it is. What you’re trying to do is paint a clear picture for your reader, the exact same one you see in your mind when you write the story. But what you’re actually doing is taking away your reader’s opportunity to imagine your story in their own way. You’re stealing the chance they could have had to explore your work with their own imagination. Now, why would you go and do that sort of thing? You want them to get everything they can out of your work, that way they’ll come back for more.
Less IS more.
Now, before you panic and throw out your half finished draft, take a breath. Purple prose BELONGS in drafts. When you’re writing your rough draft, paint that bitch PURPLE as hell. Give your puppy as much fat as you can, that’ll make ‘er happy. Having purple prose and poetry and musicality in your draft will help you to see all of the shining edges you want to keep. But when you edit, sharpen the story to the finest point. You want your final piece to slice through all of the obstacles in its way. You want to be able to cut through the slush piles, and you can’t do that with a soft piece.
If you would like to read another good article on Purple Prose, check this one out. I found it handy: LINK
Thanks for spending time with me today, hope you found this helpful.
Until next time,