purple (literary significance): identified with royalty, wealth and prosperity; dying clothes purple required money and made the color symbolic of status.
However, in writing the color evolves into an entirely different animal. I tend to imagine purple prose as the writing you find in poetry, beautiful and lyrical. Recently, as I have been working on my YA fantasy novel, I find these patches of purple popping up everywhere and I cringe. Yes, it’s “pretty writing”; but I never wanted pretty.
So what do you do if you don’t want to write pretty?
So many popular books are laden with purple prose. For example, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus is colored so much in purple, you can almost see it bleeding through the novel’s black and white carnival. Writers wants to seduce their reader, pull them into the world of their characters, entice them. Some authors choose adjectives and adverbs that color the whole yarn purple, weaving a gossamer dream, enticing them gently, slowly, sweetly. Think of Twilight. One moment Bella is your typical high schooler then the next thing you know she’s in love with Edward, a virginal, hundred-year-old vampire whose strongest desire is to suck her blood out–but it’s alright because he’s pretty. (Admittedly, while you are reading the book it does makes perfect sense and it is addictive.) But Twilight is not alone in this. In fact, we see this throughout YA literature: Mortal Instruments series by Cassandra Clare, Flowers in the Attic (Dollanganger series) by V.C. Andrews, etc. Seriously, what is with incest in young-adult literature?
Moral of the Story: If you are pretty, you can get away with things like incest or being a soulless vampire or trying to take over the world. 😉
I don’t want to lull my readers to fantasy. Sure, I want to show them a beautiful, pretty set-up, but then I want to carve the skin off and show my readers the bones. I want to cut out the sinews and open the veins. Do I, like every other writer, want to seduce my readers? Yes, but do I want them to go gently into the night? No, no, no. I want to yank them by the collar and make them beg. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ Oh well. I haven’t gotten there yet and I assure you I’m not swearing off adjectives and adverbs any time soon. However, it has become clear to me that my instinctual attempt at writing is stained with shades of purple that I have difficulty washing out.
Much of my own writing is largely influenced by the books I’ve grown up reading. Many of the books that I was raised upon was descriptive and beautiful. I swear J.R.R. Tolkien spends a good page or more describing a tree. *ahem* Ent *cough* But it’s also why I fell in love with them. I loved the way the elves sang in Lothlorein and I remember sighing with contentment at My Antonia‘s sunset across the American countryside. I can proudly declare that I completed “the Brick” (aka Les Miserables by Victor Hugo) although I never quite got through Lolita. Purple is in my veins. Now, how to get rid of it?
Coco Chanel is quoted: “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off.” I suggest an amendment for writers: “Before you finish a page, look at your draft and cut off one-third.” So far that has meant cutting out many descriptions in what I’ve written and, admittedly, it’s a pain. Every step forward is one-third step back. However, this practice also forces me to question what is unnecessary–not only adjectives and adverbs, but also entire scenes and characters. Does this scene drive along my plot? Does it add to character development? Is this character a whole, rounded figure? Or are they only a ploy to another character’s action?
Purple prose is not the enemy but by challenging yourself and pushing your work through trial by fire, it is the bones that you’ll be left with and that is what will stand strong in your writing. So what do you think? Do you enjoy purple prose? Do you write a lot of purple prose? And what do you do about it? Let me know in the comments down below!
Good luck on your writing and remember: “The first draft of anything is shit.” — Ernest Hemingway.