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In Defense of Purple Prose
Michelle Mills
Posted: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 11:22 PM
Joined: 7/21/2011
Posts: 41


I grew up reading Phylis A. Whitney, and she's probably one of my biggest writing influences. My prose leans on the descriptive, and I like to think it has mystical qualities. It might not be for everyone, but I've found it engages most. I disagree that simple is always better. If you are skilled enough, you can play with description in select areas (purple patches) whilst keeping your reader fully engaged. Having said that, I recognize that some prefer writing that is lean and simple, and I respect that too.

I came across this article by Paul West, published in the NY Times, and wanted to share:

 

"Certain producers of plain prose have conned the reading public into believing that only in prose plain, humdrum or flat can you articulate the mind of inarticulate ordinary Joe. Even to begin to do that you need to be more articulate than Joe, or you might as well tape-record him and leave it at that. This minimalist vogue depends on the premise that only an almost invisible style can be sincere, honest, moving, sensitive and so forth, whereas prose that draws attention to itself by being revved up, ample, intense, incandescent or flamboyant turns its back on something almost holy--the human bond with ordinariness. . . .

"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)




Marcie
Posted: Wednesday, October 19, 2011 11:52 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 103


Sorry Michelle, I fall in the other camp. I'm not a fan of thorough description. I'd much rather use my own imagination. Though I do agree there shouldn't be any hard any fast rules on this that people apply to every story written.

I think certain types of stories and voices lend themselves to purple prose, others do not. As long as the writer understands the likes and dislikes of his/her readers, who am I to say that's wrong.

p.s. Phyllis A. Whitney was my favourite writer as a teen and young adult as well.
Michelle Mills
Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2011 12:36 AM
Joined: 7/21/2011
Posts: 41


"I think certain types of stories and voices lend themselves to purple prose, others do not."

I fully agree!!
LilySea
Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2011 3:01 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241


I think one can write a uniquely descriptive phrase that is still simple and clean. That's good writing--careful word choice, with a less-is-more mentality.
Michelle Mills
Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2011 7:41 PM
Joined: 7/21/2011
Posts: 41


That is so true, Lily. Some people can weave magic in so few words.
Charl F king
Posted: Tuesday, December 6, 2011 4:08 AM
Joined: 11/20/2011
Posts: 24


I am vehemently opposed to purple prose. Having said that, I will review your book to see what you call PP. I also enjoy good descriptions, but think brevity should be the driving force. Writers often hope that many adjectives and descriptions will carry bad writing, they don't. I was challenged to do an exercise once--take all the adjectives out of the first page of my first novel. To my surprise, it actually improved it. It obviously needed some adjectives, but one often goes over the top without realizing it.
My pet hate with PP is when a writer calls a penis a throbbing member, shaft or some such thing. Or a vagina becomes petals of pleasure. That is true-blue PP and leaves me rolling with mirth.
napacione
Posted: Monday, January 25, 2016 8:49 AM
Joined: 10/31/2015
Posts: 14


I for pissed when someone accused me of doing that my retort was a little meaner; I asked them if they're nothing but a fan fiction writer.     There are a few that would see the "fuck you" reponse for having the dunicatory and direct language;  how is being direct using "purple prose"  as Ramsey Campbell said nothing about The Pattern of Diagnosis being plagiarized.   No one likes to do the back reading to prepare them for reading a piece when it's a creative nonfiction work.

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chasfmill
Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2016 12:16 PM
Joined: 8/19/2013
Posts: 2


Michelle, I have to agree with you.  In fiction, I much more enjoy a good description.  A good writer should describe well.
chasfmill
Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2016 12:19 PM
Joined: 8/19/2013
Posts: 2


Michelle, I have to agree with you.  In fiction, I much more enjoy a good description.  A good writer should describe well.  Of course, if purple prose refers to extravagant, overdone description, then there must be a line drawn.
 

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