Thursday, May 19, 2016

Seven Deadly Sins of Writing: #4 Purple Prose

Recently, I beta-read a piece for a friend, and I noticed many of my suggestions involved cutting words or tightening sentences. Since it's been on my mind, I decided to dig up the following excerpt from our "Seven Deadly Sins of Writing" tip sheet. I hope this as helpful to all of you as it was to me as I assisted my friend with her story. Happy writing!

~Jessica Nelson


By strict definition, “purple prose” refers to writing that is overly descriptive and/or detailed (overwritten), drawing attention to itself. However “purple prose” can also refer to poor writing habits that add nothing but fluff. Here are some things you should avoid:

UNNECESSARY WORDS. This is the easiest place to start looking for fat. Any word that doesn’t add to your story detracts from it. If a sentence reads equally well with or without a word (such as “that”), cut the extra word. Examine your prose for words like these: started to, began to, proceeded to, could, would, there was, there are, there is, there were, seemed to, tried to.

Bad: She began to walk to the store.
Good: She walked to the store.

Bad: It appeared that the suitcase was heavy.
Good: It appeared the suitcase was heavy.
Better: Marcus struggled to lift the suitcase.

Bad: Jackie would run to the bus stop each day.
Good: Jackie ran to the bus stop each day.

Bad: Jarod could hear laughter coming from the basement.
Good: Jarod heard laughter coming from the basement.
Better: Laughter erupted from the basement.

INTENSIFIERS. Very, really, totally, completely, truly and so on. Is completely empty any more empty?

Bad: The room was totally quiet.
Good: The room was quiet.

CLICHÉS. Instead of reusing phrases that you’ve heard before, find fresh ways of saying things. Common clichés, such as “happy as a pig in a poke” are fairly easy to find. However, be aware that emotions, descriptions, characters, etc. can also be cliché. If it’s been said before or used before, it’s cliché.

ADVERBS AND ADJECTIVES. Instead of using an adverb to make a weak verb stronger or an adjective to make a weak noun stronger, omit the adverb or adjective and choose a stronger verb or noun. Also resist the urge to stack adjectives. Select the one (at most two) adjectives that are the most descriptive and omit the rest.

Bad: She quickly and purposefully walked to Blaine and sharply hit his arm.
Good: She strode to Blaine and punched his arm.

Bad: Janet was tired, worn out and exhausted.
Good: Janet was exhausted.
Better: Janet forced her leg to raise, move forward, step back down. Then the other. It felt as though her legs were encased in concrete.

EUPHEMISMS. Instead of using euphemisms (attention: romance and love-scene writers!) for parts of the body, use real words. Too much fluff is just like too much dessert—it leaves us heaving.

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