Tuesday, May 14, 2013

To Write or Not Right, Purple Prose is the Question

Purple Prose got its name because the color is representative of royalty. Therefore, the language associated with this flowery representation of the writing craft is considered by many to be too fru-fru, overly sensitive, and exceedingly descriptive. Others say that the demise of purple prose is due to common readers unable to associate with colorful, well developed descriptions. Charles Harrington Elster made a case for the erosion of our collective vocabulary and general disdain for purple prose in the following quote.

"Purple prose doesn't seem to have become wholly pejorative until the twentieth century, when steep declines in the vocabulary and reading comprehension of college-educated Americans caused a panic in the education establishment and the newspaper industry, which together launched a campaign against prose that displayed royalty, grandeur, and power. This led to the disappearance of the semicolon, the invention of the sentence fragment, and a marked increase in the use of words like methodological."
(Charles Harrington Elster, What in the Word? Harcourt, 2005)

I must confess I like purple prose, especially in specific doses that you might consider purple patches or passages. Sometimes, as a reader, I want a description of the dawning sun against a colorful backdrop of landscape, clouds, and sky that makes me believe it was a work in progress being created in the moment on some magnificent canvas being painted by God.

When a basic description of a person, place, thing, or action lacks color and excitement purple prose can breathe in new life. Imagine how dull and mundane his work would have been had Shakespeare written Romeo and Juliet in the following way:

“I wish I was her glove. That way when she touches her face it would be just like me touchin’ it.”

Perhaps Paul West said it best:

"It takes a certain amount of sass to speak up for prose that's rich, succulent and full of novelty. Purple is immoral, undemocratic and insincere; at best artsy, at worst the exterminating angel of depravity. So long as originality and lexical precision prevail, the sentient writer has a right to immerse himself or herself in phenomena and come up with as personal a version as can be. A writer who can't do purple is missing a trick. A writer who does purple all the time ought to have more tricks."
(Paul West, "In Defense of Purple Prose." The New York Times, Dec. 15, 1985)

Purple Prose is not for everyone. However, before you take up arms against it, remember sometimes a little color is good for the soul.

Your comments and questions are always welcome.

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1 comment:

  1. Love the article. Never been one to use Purple Prose in my writing, but after reading this well written professional description, I am inclined to use it more often. Well done!
    Carl Sparks


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