Many readers shut the book or turn off their eReader when they see too much prose that’s purple! It’s really best to avoid it. First, though, what’s purple prose?
Wikipedia has to say this about it:
In literary criticism, purple prose is prose text that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself. Purple prose is characterized by the extensive use of adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors. When it is limited to certain passages, they may be termed purple patches or purple passages, standing out from the rest of the work.
Wikipedia further gives this amusing example:
“On occasion, one finds oneself immersed in the literary throes of a piece of prose where there is very little in the way of advancement of the plot or development of the characters, but the pages are still filled with words. Since the esteemed author has allowed their writing to take a turn for the dry and dull, they gallantly attempt to overcompensate for the lack of stimulation by indulging in elaborate turns of phrase.” – Liz Bureman
The best way I’ve found to avoid this literary pitfall is this: write simply. If you use good, vivid words, it will help you avoid using excess words to make your point.
It’s really worthwhile to go through a manuscript and look for places where you could have said something more simply, clearly, and effectively. While it’s impossible avoid adjectives, trimming excessive ones can help your work. Always strive to make one paragraph flow naturally into another, without anything to jolt your reader out of the story you are telling.
When using metaphor, simple is usually best. Make sure your metaphors aren’t cliched. A cliche not only kicks the reader out of the story, but it often makes them stop thinking about what you have said. A great metaphor engages the senses simply, but in a way that makes the reader share the experience you are presenting.
To further avoid prose of a purplish color, break up your sentences. Also, make sure your words are active, not passive. Sometimes it helps you read your work aloud. This lets us hear how the story is flowing, and find the faults more easily. Many times I’ve read a finished story out loud, only to make half a dozen corrections as I go along.
As I have simplified my writing and gotten away from purple prose, I’ve seen it improve tremendously. If you’re like me, you can too.