Purple prose, according to Wikipedia, is

prose text that is so extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw excessive attention to itself. Purple prose is characterized by the extensive use of adjectives, adverbs, zombie nouns, and metaphors.


Purple prose manuscript hoping to become a book
Purple prose manuscript hoping to become a book

Last week, my memoir, Elopement: a Memoir was sent out into the world. Like an empty- nest mother whose youngest has left home, I felt both bereft and relieved. I will miss that creation of mine. My baby. What will I do with myself? That was the question I asked. For about a nano-second.

I need a change of pace. The answer came in a flash. Purple prose time!

So, last Friday, I revisited the manuscript of a novel I wrote years ago. I can’t remember how many years exactly.The date doesn’t matter. I wrote it in thirty days, locked away in what was then my study. It’s a healthy looking piece of work. That’s if you count the words – 60 000 of them. Two thousand words a day. Every day for a month. A solid start to a new novel.

I printed the manuscript. Put it in a folder so it stays together. In the current heatwave things tend to blow around under the air conditioning outlets. I resurrected a new purple-patterned foolscap note-book. It’s perfect for my editing-and-writing notes for a purple prose novel. I made coffee and began to read.

The new manuscript might be OK! My task: edit and rewrite. Repeat as often as needed.

Edit, rewrite. Edit, rewrite
Edit, rewrite. Edit, rewrite

So far the pluses of my new novel are

  • I love the story concept.
  • Love the setting.
  • Love the main character. Some of the supporting cast are flat as characters go. They need rounding to become believable.
  • Bits of the dialogue are fun (and some funny).
  • The primary setting works. But I may have to go off on jaunts to  make absolutely certain I’ve got the details right. We might even have to suffer a trip to Europe. Call that research, please! I can hardly send my protagonist to exotic places unless I check them out first. She has only been to Paris in France, and has never been to Spain. Perhaps she’s like Vence? or Montpelier? or San Sebastian?

This novel has potential. It’s like a half-built house you want to love and finish. It needs lots of work, especially on the language. At the moment it is truly full of purple prose.

My experience has been that such writing is notoriously hard to correct. I once wrote the most amazing description of landing in Newman in the north of Western Australia. Purple prose had nothing on my paragraph or two. I put it into Other People’s Country. Almost everyone who read the manuscript told me it didn’t work.

I hung on stubbornly, through thick and thin. Through my PhD examination. To a publisher. It was not until the very last minute, when my editor told me it had to go, that I relented. You know what? The book was much better without it. But I still sometimes mourn that purple prose. Maybe it will turn up somewhere one day.

I’ve learned a lot since then. I almost look forward to dramatic culling of the new manuscript.

What don’t I like about my purple prose manuscript?

Here are a few things, without being too critical.

  • The purple prose, to begin with. Outrageously flowery language,littered with adverbs and adjectives.
  • This tells me that I haven’t got the voice right. It doesn’t sound like me.
  • There is no discernible plot. I know what the protagonist desires, and what happens in the end. But that is a too slender thread for a plot. Much work to be done there.
  • It’s a novel and there’s romance. So there has to be sex, right? A writing supervisor told me that novels always have sex. I need to test out this theory, make sure it is right. I find the idea of writing sex scenes seriously scary.

I’m firmly resolved. This book will not take seven years to write! I have too much else to do. I’m too old to pander to a wayward book. I’m hoping that my blog-readers will come with me on the journey to keep me working.

Please let me know what you think about my new project in a comment. Should I blog about my novel-writing as I go?

14 replies on “Purple prose and change of pace”

  1. Please do blog about it! I can feel your excitement. What an adventure! Living the life to catch up with your character. Perhaps there’s a purple person in you waiting to emerge.

    1. Yes, I think there might be a purple person waiting to emerge. Perhaps I, too, will wear purple shoes one day!

      I am excited, and a bit over-awed by the prospect of being involved in such a big project. But it will be fun to write a novel. It feels almost frivolous. Can I book you for editing, please?

        1. No like button here! But I do like your comment. Guess you are a role model, with your adventurous life.

    1. Thanks, Coral. Cool is not what am doing this week. Our second bathroom is under renovation. What a week to have the dust and cement blowing everywhere, or else no air conditioning. Not really choices I would have chosen for a heatwave.

  2. My daughter gave me a copy of Purple Prose for Christmas – the book is being launched at this year’s writer’s Festival. So … I love purple prose! And the sex! We can always imagine! Am more than happy to assist – read – comment on your version of purple prose at any time Maureen. Go for it. PS. Maybe you need a PA person when you do your research in Spain and other exotic destinations?

    1. Thank you for that lovely offer, Elizabeth. You are hereby formally invited to come with me on this journey to a new book. I would love to have you read and comment on versions and drafts. When I was writing Other People’s Country your comments were most incisive and helpful.

      Probably will need a PA. I’ll keep you posted.

    1. Thank you Melinda. I’m keen to know how you are enjoying your new publication, and to find out what you are writing.

      I’m looking forward to sharing my journey on my blog.

  3. Can’t wait to follow this journey with you. Personally, I think that just about all novels are resurrectible (I think I just made up a word), even if you have to toss half of it to do so—like I have with mine!

    Your fear of writing sex scenes resonates—I’ve never written one either. I don’t know if it’s actual avoidance, or if it’s just that I haven’t needed to yet. I’m sure I will one day, but until then, it can all happen behind closed doors!

    1. I agree, Louise, that most novels are resurrectible! Love the word. Or perhaps I just hope so! I have loads of energy for this one, so that’s a good start. I am also absolutely determined that this book will be written in the next two years. Elopement took seven -far too long for someone my age.

      I’m glad you want to come on my journey. Thank you.

  4. Hmmm… I struggle with “Purple Prose” as a concept. I love extravagant, ornate and flowery!!! I suppose it’s all about balance, simplicity is a beautiful too. That’s something you get right.

    1. There is beautifully written description and purple prose, Claire. Purple prose is not just extravagant, ornate and flowery. It is downright cliched and really bad and unoriginal. I knew the passage was a cliche and bad, but it described my first Pilbara sunset. The colours were over-the-top purple and red and orange and amazing. I couldn’t believe anything like it could exist. But after a while, the sunsets became just what I expected. One day I might see if I can rewrite the passage and do the North-West sunsets justice. Thank you for your comment about my writing, btw.

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