Purple Prose: How to Spot It and Enhance Your Writing

When exploring different ways of writing, a phrase you often hear among writers and editors is “purple prose.” This style uses fancy, very detailed, and sometimes too emotional words, which can cause disagreements on whether the words are good or bad. Knowing what purple prose means is important for writers who want to improve and write in a way that grabs people’s attention. It’s very important to find the perfect mix in your writing because it influences its ease of reading.

In this article will explain purple prose and give thoughts on the clues that show it in the text. We will also look at why writers need to avoid using too many ornate words. Then, we will then discuss real methods to keep writing clear and accurate. By defining purple prose and giving definite rules to avoid it, we hope to help writers improve their work meaningfully.

What is Purple Prose?

Definition of Purple Prose

Purple prose is a term used in literary criticism to describe overly ornate text that may disrupt narrative flow by drawing undesirable attention to its extravagant style, thereby diminishing the appreciation of the prose overall. This type of writing is characterized by the excessive use of adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors, which can make the text feel bloated and overcomplicated.

Characteristics of Purple Prose

Characteristics of purple prose include wordiness, complex sentence structures, and unnecessary vocabulary. Such prose often features sentences of extreme length, filled with multiple clauses connected by colons and semicolons, and a plethora of qualifying phrases. This rhetorical device, known as syntaxis, should be used sparingly and with intent.

Authors of purple prose frequently employ unnecessarily obscure or erudite vocabulary, opting for words like “loquacious” instead of “talkative,” or “pusillanimous” instead of “timid”. This choice of language can obfuscate the meaning and confuse readers with ornate speech.

Another hallmark is overwhelming detail, where authors describe minute, inconsequential details at great length, which detracts from the main narrative and slows down the pace of the story. Additionally, because of their focus on fancy language and complicated sentences, writers may lose sight of the action, leading to a stall in the story’s progression. The lack of substance is evident as purple prose often sounds like it conveys more information than it actually does, leaving the reader with little value.

By recognizing these characteristics, writers can better assess their work for instances of purple prose and take steps to refine their writing style, ensuring clarity and engagement for their readers.

Signs of Purple Prose

1. Excessive Use of Adjectives and Adverbs

Purple prose often suffers from an overabundance of adjectives and adverbs, which can weigh down the text and distract from the story. Writers may use these excessively to embellish their prose, which often leads to a lack of precision and clarity. As noted by literary critics, the misuse of adjectives and adverbs is a common reason for manuscript rejection, as they can make the reading experience slow and tedious.

2. Long, Winding Sentences

Another indicator of purple prose is the presence of long, overly complex sentences that confuse readers. These sentences often contain multiple clauses and winding narratives that make it difficult for readers to follow the main point. The use of such sentences sacrifices clear storytelling for the sake of sounding more elaborate or sophisticated.

Learn More: Elements of a Narrative

3. Over-the-Top Emotions

Purple prose frequently features exaggerated emotions that are hammered onto the page, which can feel insincere and melodramatic to the reader. This style of writing often tells the reader what to feel, rather than showing them through strong, character-driven action, leading to a disconnection from the emotional core of the story.

4. Use of Clichés

Clichés are another common feature in purple prose, where phrases that have lost their original impact due to overuse are prevalent. These clichés are often used as a shortcut to convey emotions or situations, suggesting a lack of original thought from the writer. While they may be common in everyday speech, their use in literature can make the writing feel stale and unoriginal.

5. Lack of Clarity

The hallmark of purple prose is its lack of clarity. Its dense composition of florid language and excessive detail can obscure the intended message or story, leaving readers more bewildered than engaged. This style of writing often prioritizes ornate expression over clear, effective communication, which can alienate readers and detract from the overall impact of the writing.

Why Avoid Purple Prose?

Purple prose, characterized by its overly ornate and elaborate language, often detracts from the core message of the text, leading to several significant issues in writing.

Alienates Readers

When prose becomes excessively flowery, it can alienate readers by making them feel inadequate or disconnected from the text. The use of high-level vocabulary and complex sentence structures can elevate the reading level unnecessarily, making the content inaccessible to a broader audience. This can frustrate readers, as they may struggle to understand the basic narrative or message being conveyed.

Distracts from the Story

One primary reason to avoid purple prose is its tendency to distract from the main story. By focusing on ornate descriptions and overly dramatic language, the author risks losing the reader’s attention to the plot and character development. This style of writing often screams, “Look how fancy I am!” rather than serving the story, thereby pulling readers out of the immersive experience of the narrative.

Complicates Readability

Purple prose complicates readability by cluttering the text with unnecessary details and complex phrasing. This can slow down the pace of reading and obscure the intended message or theme of the piece. As noted, overly ornate words and sentences that feel clunky can confuse the reader, detracting from the enjoyment and understanding of the text. Simplifying the prose can often make the meaning stand out more clearly, enhancing both the impact and clarity of the writing.

By recognizing these drawbacks, writers can strive to maintain a balance in their style, ensuring their writing is both engaging and comprehensible to their intended audience.

How to Avoid Purple Prose

  1. Use Strong Verbs Instead of Adjectives and Adverbs: To enhance your writing and steer clear of purple prose, focus on using strong verbs rather than relying heavily on adjectives and adverbs. Strong verbs convey action and emotion effectively without the need for additional qualifiers, making your writing more direct and consequential.
  2. Shorten Your Sentences: Long, winding sentences are a hallmark of purple prose. By keeping your sentences short and to the point, you increase the clarity and readability of your writing. Aim for an average sentence length of 14 to 18 words. This approach not only makes your writing more accessible but also keeps your readers engaged.
  3. Keep Emotions in Check: While writing, it’s essential to control and temper your emotions to prevent them from overwhelming the narrative. Over-exaggerated emotions can turn your prose purple. Instead, let the situations and dialogues carry the emotional weight of your story.
  4. Avoid Clichés: Clichés can dilute the originality and impact of your writing. When you find clichés in your draft, challenge yourself to either eliminate them or reinvent them in a context that adds freshness to the narrative. Remember, specificity in language paints more precise and more vivid imagery for your readers.
  5. Strive for Clarity in Your Writing; Clarity is paramount in avoiding purple prose. Use clear, precise language to communicate your ideas effectively. This includes choosing the right words, constructing coherent paragraphs, and adhering to grammatical rules. Clear writing not only enhances understanding but also keeps the reader engaged with the content. Ensure each sentence serves a purpose and contributes directly to your narrative or argument.


Through this exploration of purple prose, we’ve distilled the essence of what makes writing overly ornate and the pitfalls that accompany such elaborate expressions. By grounding our understanding in the characteristics and signs of purple prose, we’ve offered writers the tools to critically assess and refine their work, striving for a balance that elevates readability while preserving the richness of narrative. The strategies provided not only aid in avoiding the trappings of purple prose but also champion clarity and precision, positioning these as pillars of solid writing.

The dialogue around purple prose underscores the importance of thoughtful language use in crafting narratives that resonate with readers. As writers endeavor to engage their audience, navigating the fine line between creativity and clarity becomes paramount. The implications of these discussions are far-reaching, encouraging a shift towards writing that is both impactful and accessible. By adhering to the guidance shared, writers can enhance their storytelling, ensuring that their work not only captivates but also communicates effectively, laying the groundwork for literature that both enlightens and entertains.

Excited about your writing? Explore more of our resources for writers or submit to our magazine.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *