Since it's Friday and I think we can all use a bit of a laugh at the end of a long week, I thought it might be fun to review the meaning and use of what is popularly known as "purple prose." For those of you who may not be familiar with the phrase, it is typically described as a passage written in a figurative language that is unusually and overly descriptive. The term is most often applied derogatorily and indicates that the author has surpassed her/himself in the overuse or convolution of metaphors. Let me give you some specific examples of purple prose taken from several not-to-be-identified novels.
“His throbbing weapon pierced her sugared treasure-trove.”
“From between his steely thighs rose a marble pillar.”
“She was drowning in a sea of chest hair.”
“He dived into her pool of love.”
“Desire rose in her like a call of nature.”
“His eyes were hacked from the walls of hell.”
“She flashed her optical orbs of disbelief.”
Done laughing yet? The obvious problem of purple prose is that most readers are rudely jolted from the story by such over-writing, not enchanted by the author’s incredibly imaginative use of a metaphor. Writers have to beware that they are not carried away by the moment (especially a passionate one) and allow themselves to gleefully toss their common sense out the window.
We, as writers, know that writing love scenes can be difficult. No one wants to be accused of woodenly explaining how Tab A fits into Slot B. On the other hand, using “his throbbing man-root” and the “quivering, wintry flesh of her rounded globes” is NOT the way to go either. How realistic is it to expect the reader to relate to a phrase like, “She eagerly eyed his purple helmeted soldier of love?" Jeez! How can anyone read that and keep a straight face?
Writers can avoid purple prose by simply applying a little common sense. You can be sensual and sexy without being absurd. If you re-read a passage and it makes you laugh (and you’re not writing comedy), then you’d be better off to change it. As silly as purple prose may seem, it can truly be fatal to your story. Avoid it like the plague! Ha!