I had never heard the term “purple prose” until a month or so ago. According to The Advanced Edit:

“Purple prose is the name given to writing — or, well, prose– that’s just too flowery and too melodramatic for its own good.”

Basically, it’s writing that’s over the top. For example:

–          Normal sentence: The sun shone down hot on the bright July morning.

–          Purple prose sentence: The sun, its face yellowed from the morning exertion and solar liver spots, shone its glorious, radiant light on the morning, a morning of summer, excitement, and July frippery.

The first sentence says something, but purple prose goes out of its way to OVERsay the same thing. It’s a horrible trap, and it makes for horrible, horrible reading.

I have fallen into this trap a few times while writing In the Days, though thankfully not as often as some others. Dave Barry is one of the few authors who can pull of purple prose properly, but that’s just because he’s a freaking genius and a hilarious writer. For any other authors out there, STAY AWAY!

How can you avoid purple prose?

– Keep it short and snappy. Describe what you need to, and add ONLY a detail or two more.
– Avoid long, flowery words. Keep the fancy words for your poetry.
– Think about your reader. Does he/she need to know every detail about your world/character right now? Can you add more detail later? If so, limit your descriptions.
– Don’t overuse the thesaurus. If you can’t think of another way to say a word, consider leaving it out instead of over-describing it.

It’s just that simple. Not everyone prefers short, snappy writing, but your readers will thank you if you don’t get lost in Dickenzian descriptions of that small flower that has ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with your story!