In honor of Saint Valentine's Day I thought I'd blog about purple prose. I am studying it (the phrase is new to me) mostly because I think I need to. I am pretty sure that I have a tendency towards the purple in my writing. I suspect that purple is the mark of an amateur.
Purple prose is a term of literary criticism that is attributed to Horace. That's going back quite a while! Basically it means that the writing is over-the-top. Horace was saying that it (a poem) was overly ornate and ostentatious, using language to draw attention to itself. That means it is a cheap and manipulative device used by a writer to try to control, rather than earn, a specific response from the reader. Romance writing is most often accused of being purple, but I have even heard Cormac McCarthy's work described as being overdone which surprised me. Obviously, there is a market for purple prose, if that's the kind of writing you want to do. Either way, it does seem it is something that we all must attend to, but how...?
In surveying the scads of sites on the web offering writing advice (I welcome your advice) I've come up with this basic bottom line;
it is all about revising, re-reading your work (probabaly silently and aloud) and noticing which phrases impress you. There will be shades of purple in all first drafts, and that is fine. But when proofing a draft, notice where sentences are doing little gymnastic feats. If they impress you, they are probably more about you, then the story. It's one of your darlings, and most likely you need to kill it.
We should all pick a story right now to read and revise. Have a bloody Saint Valentine's Day massacre! How many darlings can you kill? One sweet suggestion I came across was to save all of you dead darlings in a folder where you can visit them and love them for ever and ever. That can make the sword mightier than the pen.