Posted by: Jan Morrill
I love finding a new word–a unique word that I can roll over my tongue, maybe even blog about. Like this one:
1) The use of more words than are necessary to express an idea.
2) A superfluous word or expression
Synonyms: copiousness, garrulity, loquaciousness, verbosity
Isn’t that a perfect word for a writer? So much nicer sounding than purple prose. Though I’ve wilted at accusations of purple prose, I can almost say I wouldn’t mind being accused of purple pleonasm.
What is purple prose, or its more sophisticated cousin, purple pleonasm? Wikipedia defines it as:
… a term of literary criticism used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context. It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a reader’s response.
There was a time when I thought this was precisely how a gifted writer should write. In fact, allow me to make a true confession. Here’s an excerpt of a story I wrote several years ago:
PROFESSOR HEMINGWAY: “Oh. . . my . . . God.”
JAN: (Smiling and thinking to herself) I knew she’d love it.
PROFESSOR HEMINGWAY: (Pulling her hair out) “No. No. No!! This is SO purple. I hate purple prose!”
Still, I do kind of like passages of pleonasm. Though Wikipedia calls a phrase that “draws attention to itself” purple prose, I must admit, sometimes I like to be pulled out for a moment, to float in the art of how the words were put together. To me, it is akin to walking through a museum and finding one piece in particular that draws me to admire and wonder.
When I write my first draft, I let purple prose flow through my fingers to keyboard to my heart’s content. It’s the dancing, skipping, doing cartwheels of my writing. (See my propensity for purple?) But, as I described in my blog entry “Synonyms for Hate,” when I begin my editing process, I pull it from my manuscript like crabgrass from my garden–though a bit more begrudgingly, I must admit.
I like salt, too. Just a sprinkle. But too much, and the meal is ruined. It’s the same with purple prose. A little here and there adds an artistic touch. Too much, and the author might as well spill a gallon of paint over the story.
A purple prose is a purple prose . . . by any other name–even if you, like me, prefer to call it pleonasm. And it’s subjective. Every reader has a different tolerance level. My advice to myself is to use it sparingly. I’d much rather leave my reader hungry for more than feeling stuffed and bloated.
How about you? Do you use purple prose? Do you like to read it?
A few great links: