What Is Purple Prose?
For those unfamiliar with the term, purple prose is writing characterized by ornate flowery language or, as one of my high school English teachers once said, a writer who is "drunk on words." It can be recognized as being littered heavily with adjectives and adverbs. However, since there is no ultimate definition, it is subject to interpretation. So what I consider purple prose, you may see as vivid description.
Regardless, purple prose as a style can make for slow, clunky reading, so for that reason, it should be avoided. So where does it come from? A few genres consider it consider it acceptable, but most of the time, it's beginning writers believing more adjectives will enhance their descriptions and make them better writers. And as a result, they can over do it a bit.
How to Avoid Purple Prose
This leads to the question: how do you write quality descriptions without purple prose? Two simple suggestions can help you clean up your writing:
1. Use adjectives and adverbs sparingly, if you must include them at all. In other words, put the thesaurus down and step away. If you need to search for these descriptive words, you don't need to use them. Some editors suggest avoiding adjectives and adverbs completely, but I find that isn't always possible. Stay clear of hunting for these gems in your thesaurus though, and remove as many as you can in your editing phase.
2. Use strong verbs. Some writers will use adjectives and adverbs to compensate for weak verbs, or those that don't express action. If you must reach for a thesaurus, look for a verb, not an adverb, and even then be careful. Your prose will not flow as it should when the words are borrowed. Active verbs reduce the need for adjectives and adverbs and make the most vivid descriptions.
So with that in mind, I hope you enjoy Mardi Gras tomorrow if you plan on celebrating. And while purple can enhance your wardrobe (especially tomorrow), it won't do the same for your prose. When in doubt, write simply.