Writing Crimes #1: Purple Prose

Ah, purple prose. The crime of flowery writing. I’ve actually had an agent call me out on this in a first pages critique.


Editors have told me: if you think something you’ve written is particularly stellar, and a true, shining example of your writing prowess, then you should most likely CUT IT.


Our first instinct as writers is to say, BUT…and then, BUT…

This was (and is) a hard lesson for me to apply. I’ve learned it the hard way—by way of countless rejection letters.

But here’s the essential truth of purple prose: IT PULLS THE READER OUT OF THE SCENE. If I think of it in terms of screenwriting, it’s like giving a character a monologue that makes a viewer think, “Oh, yeah—I’m the audience, and I’m watching something that IS FAKE.” It’s very hard to get your audience back on board after this point–especially if you continue to commit this crime.

You know the old writer’s adage: “kill your darlings”. This is that. It’s not easy, but it is what separates the rookies from the repped and published.

SO…go back through your MS, keeping an eye out for sentences that might possibly wax a bit “purple prose.” This often creeps in when DESCRIBING things, like how things look, or how a character feels.  Be a better writer and SHOW these details instead.  So if you find phrases that lean a bit purple prose in your writing, just archive those moments…you can always add them back.

You’ll find this technique increases your novel’s momentum–especially key at the start of your novel.

Your readers will thank you.


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