Friday, September 17, 2010

Purple Prose

This post is inspired by Squeaks' Purple Prose post at Hidden Doorways, just so you know. Squeaks wrote an intriguing post on it and inspired me to do the same. :)

So, what is purple prose? From what I hear, the definition goes something like this;

"1) Prose that is overly descriptive or flowery, and useless or, 2) Prose that describes things uniquely."

But is it good to use? Does it matter to the reader?

Sometimes purple prose is useless to those who don't enjoy description at all. Most people view it as useless to the plot. Why take the time to describe all of this useless stuff?

On the other hand, some people are enchanted by 'purple prose'.

Here's the 'Purple Prose is Useless' argument.

1. Purple prose is agonizing to get through.
2. It is useless to the plot.
3. It is unneeded.

And the Purple Prose-er's reply?

1. REAL purple prose, written right, flies right by.
2. Useless? Just put it in the right places and enhance the plot.
3. Unneeded? Quite the contrary. If you have the right amounts in the right places, it gives imagery to the story.


But what is an example of purple prose? Squeaks gives this, from Paul Clifford, a novel written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton (though I have never read it myself), as an example.

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."


Who does not find this beautiful?? What did the author do right to immerse you in his Purple Prose?

1) He used Personification. Description (especially purple prose) is not all adjectives, adverbs, etc. Personification does a better job. "...by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets...rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness." [Emphasis added] Do you see the personification? Personificationi is where you put human characteristics to inanimate things.

2) He mixed in information. From this one sentence, you gain that 1. the lamps are flickering, 2. There is a violent storm going on, and 3. this takes place in London.

3) He added depth to the description. Not only is this a storm, this is a violent and gusty storm.

4) He showed. He told you that it it was a violent and gusty storm--and then showed it. The prose said, "...a violent gust of wind.." This is where many writers would stop in terms of description. But the author shows just how violent the wind is. "...which swept up the streets...rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."


So, is purple prose good? Is it bad? You decide. But purple prose is only good when done skilfully.

2 comments:

Squeaks said...

Yet here is a twist, Jake; many writers would take this whole post and say you've just explained what real "Prose" is. Not purple prose. Apparently purple prose is "bad prose" and what you've explained is "really good prose". Kinda makes you wonder eh? It's one of those cans that, upon being opened, reveals a mess of worms.

Squeaks.

Jake said...

Depends on the way you define things! :)