Differences in style series #1 Purple Prose vs the Pared Down Style

“Kill all your darlings”, they say.

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs”, King claimed.

We’ve all heard this advice before- but what if I told you it was only one way to look at your work? Because there is more to writing and literature than these absolutes. There are *lots* of styles and usually a writer uses many, many techniques, all working in tandem to create a unique voice or “literary DNA” if you will. Today I want to talk about two opposing styles, explain the different philosophies behind them and discuss some of the pros and cons of using each one.

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And yes, as you may have noted from the little “#1” sign, this will be a series- though I’m as yet unclear on how often I’ll do these posts. But my desire to do this stems largely from my wish to expand on the idea that everyone has different tastes and just to inform people about their choices when it comes to writing.

Disclaimer: One thing I want to make clear is that although I clearly lean towards one style over the other, this isn’t a criticism of the other style- it’s just pretty impossible for me to hide my preference and I will state my biases as I go. I hope you will take what I’m saying in the spirit in which it is intended ie to examine the two techniques, not to bash anyone.

Purple Prose Defined

prose that is too elaborate or ornate”

Yes, I’ve used the more negative moniker for this- so it may surprise you to find that I’m not even slightly opposed to purple prose- in fact this is my preference. I only use the term in defiance of those who would bandy it about like an insult. This is defined by Wikipedia as “excessive use of adjectives, adverbs and metaphors” etc- which I find broadly covers a great deal of atmospheric and lyrical writing. Consequently, I have always seen this as a misnomer- because, as is the point of this series, there are a variety of styles and writing is either executed well or poorly- the style itself is not inherently “bad”. “Too much” is incredibly vague, because how long is a piece of string? *Shocker* but there are plenty of popular authors who fit this criteria anyway: meet my good friend F Scott Fitzgerald… but more on that in a moment.

Pared Down Style Defined

“no unnecessary features, and has been reduced to a very simple form”

To put it simply, this is simpler prose 😉 Styles that fit into this category might be called balanced or clean. Good examples of this would be Stephen King or Hemmingway.

Purple Prose Philosophy

Now we get to the fun bit! While I think it would be difficult to pin down all the purple prose in history, I think the best place to start is with Romantic poets, who believed in centring their poetry on emotive language in order to better understand the human condition. Consequently, the aforementioned Fitzgerald sought to emulate Keats (great post on that here) and this marks a distinctive note in the history of purple prose in literature, as it serves as a direct link with the philosophy and ideas of Romanticism, which, I believe, still permeate this style of writing. There is far more focus, therefore, in this style on feelings, atmosphere and the aesthetic value of the work.

Pared Down Philosophy

Oh goodness, the perspective here is *totally* different. As King and other authors in this vein have frequently made clear, the idea is to reduce the distractions flowery writing might provide from the plot, characters and narrative structure. Here, the idea is to give all other aspects of a novel, beyond the writing, a chance to shine. It is also important to note that this style of writing came into vogue as books were popularised for the mass market. The idea here is that simpler books are more accessible.

Pros and Cons of Purple Prose

Pros: when it’s done right, it’s beautifully breath-taking. There is, to my mind, no greater pleasure than a well-executed, well-placed metaphor for instance. It can completely transform writing from dull to iridescent. It also gives a book a multi-faceted edge- to read purple prose is like looking through a prism (is it clear yet how much I love it?) Plus, there’s plenty of room to leave clever, spoilery nuggets, like breadcrumbs, to be picked up on a second reading. It makes a book more luxurious and complex, even on the surface. And like I said, it nearly always makes it more atmospheric and emotive. However, there are some downsides…

Cons: admittedly, richer prose can be a distraction and more difficult to get through (even at the best of times). It’s also *so easy* to get wrong. And when it does go wrong, or you don’t click with it, man, it’s like wading through sludge. You certainly can’t get away with weird/random metaphors that go nowhere or comparisons that are just why or clunky phrasing. Careless editing or trying too hard will stick out like a sore thumb- each device has to be carefully checked and you’ll have to tighten and tighten the screws on every passing phrase. You can, with pleasure, do a Fitzgerald and have a literary device virtually every word- but every single one of them has to work- which means it’s a lot of work.

Pros and Cons of the Pared Down Style

Pros: there’s far more clarity of purpose. The meaning, while not as decipherable from the language, can be equally complex in terms of symbolism, characters and plot. In fact, because there is less signposting, it can be more challenging to draw out the meaning, as everything seems like it’s there on the surface, but it really isn’t. It’s a neat trick if you can pull it off. It also allows for more precision of detail and makes a book appear clean and less fussy. And if you’re writing something action related, it can allow the book to flow better.

Cons: it can be dull. Really, really dull if you’re me 😉 . It can also be harder to develop an emotional connection. Also, it can be surprisingly difficult for people to follow and can end up like a game of whack-a-mole- no matter how many darlings you kill, a few more will always pop up. Also, playing executioner to adverbs in particular can create rather than remove a lot of faff- which can potentially get in the way of the author’s intent for clean prose (for the love of all that is holy, if you want to say “slowly”, say it dammit, don’t say “at a speed which was not his best” or suchlike)

Accounting for Differences in Taste

Okay, you may have detected in that last part where I fall in terms of preference 😉 However, in case you’re still unclear, I always call it the Hemmingway-Fitzgerald Divide, because a lot of people tend to prefer one over the other, and, well, they’re the best examples of these opposing philosophies. Both are excellent writers, yet they are diametrically opposed stylistically (of course you are free to like both or neither, just an example 😉 ).

Naturally, preferring one of these does not mean you have to like every book written in this style (I *hate* when purple prose is sickly, random or pretentious!). Nor does any of this mean I won’t enjoy any books in the pared down style (although King is currently on my nope list and I’m not even sorry). And most importantly, these are, of course, far from the only styles and plenty of people try to navigate between the two.

To bring this back to the question of taste, I would like to say that, discounting for difference in quality, it is possible to see the merit in both approaches. There is, unfortunately, a lot of negativity about the use of “purple prose” in contemporary literature. Even the term, which I choose to reclaim from crusty critics, was largely created as a rod to beat certain types of writers. Frequently, arguments against this style stem from a “we don’t do it that way anymore” view- which I have a problem with because a) fashion doesn’t dictate what’s good, b) there are popular authors, like Laini Taylor, who clearly disprove this point and c) ergo there’s a market for it. So I guess the message here is you do you!

Phew- that was longer than I expected! Pat on the back if you made it to the end (don’t blame you if you didn’t 😉 ). I hope you didn’t mind me trying out something new! Do you have a preference for the pared down style or purple prose? Let me know in the comments!

137 thoughts on “Differences in style series #1 Purple Prose vs the Pared Down Style

  1. What would you use as an example that uses Purple Prose effectively?

    For me it depends on what I’m reading, if I’ll appreciate Purple Prose. In a mystery absolutely not but in something more fantastical, I think it can add a whole new dimension to the reading experience.

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    1. hehe good question, like I said, Fitzgerald is a good shout- I just cracked open Gatsby to a random page and this works “This valley of ashes- a fantastic farm where ashes grow like wheat into ridges and hills and grotesque gardens; where ashes take the form of houses and chimneys and rising smoke and, finally, with a transcendent effort, of ash-grey men, who move dimly through the powdery air”.

      But if you’re looking for other egs, I’d say anything by Garcia Marquez, the opening to Picture of Dorian gray in particular, Lonely Hearts Hotel, Bear and the Nightingale (on the more atmospheric side), Laini Taylor (for a more lyrical touch) etc.

      That’s a fair point. It is different in different genres- I mentioned action, but mystery vs fantastical is an excellent example of where/why writers might make different choices.

      Sorry for the long reply- just wanted to be thorough!

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      1. lol. That’s fineZ. I love all the ideas you’ve poured into here. Your passion is definitely shining through. Much as he frustrated me in his stories, Marquez is exactly who I thought about too. I kinda forgot about Gatsby…. although you did mention him 😊
        Hmmm…. I see The Bear and The Nightingale made it into this one too 😄

        Liked by 1 person

        1. hehe thanks! It’s definitely something I’m very passionate about, so I’m glad that came across 😊😊 Yeah- obviously there’s other stylistic factors involved there (namely stream of consciousness) so I ended up frustrated too, but I can’t deny that he’s a very skilled writer. hehehe I couldn’t resist 😉

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    2. The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of an example of purple prose is probably A Game of Thrones. I think that one is an example of one done right. It can be difficult to read sometimes – you definitely have to be in the right mindset to read, understand and enjoy purple prose – but I agree, it’s so beautiful and can add something more to the reading experience 🙂

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  2. I think it depends what genre I’m reading. I prefer purple prose for fantasy or moody reads as long as it’s done ‘right’.
    For thrillers, horrors or suspense book I prefer pared down style. 😊
    I’m so excited for the rest of this series! Thanks you. 👌👏

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s a fair point- it’s definitely something that can be used in a genre-specific way 😀
      I think that’s very fair- and a lot of those genres tend to be in that style, so it makes sense 😊
      Thank you so much!! I’m really glad you liked it! 😀

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  3. Great reference post for someone who wants to write 🙂
    As for reading I don’t think I have a preference. If it works it works and I think at this point I’m pretty good at picking out what’s not working for me. You are so write about Laini Taylor though- and really all of your examples are spot on.

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  4. Yeah, I think the big issue here is that either can be fine, as long as they are done well. ‘Purple prose’ can be great or it can be hysterically bad, while pared-down writing can be highly effective or just mind-numbingly dull. The worst are those novels that lurch between the two styles for no reason, and get them both horribly wrong….

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  5. I’m too tired to decide which I prefer if it had to be one or the other. I adore purple prose done brilliantly but I also appreciate a fast-moving plot when appropriate. Great comparative post! I look forward to the next one 🙂

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  6. I love both, depending on my mood at the time. And I love the idea of using the wording Purple Prose even though it’s supposed to be an insult — but I also love the color purple, so that may be related.

    Stephen King is also currently on my nope list, but that’s more because I’m scared of his work than anything. Mr. Wyrm tells me that I should be able to read and enjoy 11.22.63, but it’s such a loooong book that I’ve been procrastinating it.

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    1. Ah I can understand that and nothing wrong with that! Like I said, of course people can like both (just trying to explain why some people prefer one style over the other) hehehe thank you! I do too 😉

      hehe I think that’s fair enough- that’s half the reason for me (the other is that I’ve given his work umpteen chances and it’s just not for me). Well I really hope you enjoy it and get a lot out of it! 😀 (but I understand the procrastinating over long books lol 😉 )

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      1. I remember when I first heard the phrase years ago, and I thought it literally meant the author wrote with a purple pen. It’s been hard for me to see this as a bad thing ever since. 😉

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  7. Hey, that’s very interesting! I think I like a good mix of both, but if I had to choose, I’d go for ‘Pared Down’. While I need variety, this style never makes me roll my eyes or get annoyed. I can’t take too much ‘Purple Prose’. I loved it in ‘The Bear and the Nightingale’, I hated it in ‘Nevernight’. Just to name 2 examples.

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  8. Can we have both? Especially in fantasy I want all the crazy descriptors of the land and the creatures and the magic, but other scenes need to be more quick and to the point. (especially fight and action scenes! I don’t care about what the grass looks like glistening with the blood from the battlefield. I want to know if my guy got stabbed haha)

    But like you said with either one, it has to be done right. Otherwise it can be distracting or boring

    Liked by 3 people

    1. No worries! Like I said, you can like whatever you want and plenty of authors navigate between the two extremes- it doesn’t have to be an either or! Just trying to pin down some of the differences and why some people might have preferences 😀 And yes, that’s a very fair point about action vs descriptive scenes 🙂

      And yeah, there’s always going to be a careful line when it comes to execution 😉

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  9. I don’t really have any preference? Mostly, if it’s well written, I’ll read it. I’ve read Fitzgerald and loved it but read other purple prose and hated it. I’ve read pared down (was that the term?) prose and loved it and tried other and hated it…. I don’t think it really matters to me, as long as there’s quality writing!
    Really like this series, definitely looking forward to more of it in the future! 💛
    Great post 💛💛💛

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  10. I probably fall more on the pared down style side of the fence. I think it just comes down to how my brain works and how I take in information. I just can’t absorb lots of descriptions or lots of details and metaphors. It goes in and straight back out again. I do know a lot of people who are the complete opposite though and it’s the detail and imagery they read for. Everyone’s different so there’s definitely no one style or one set of rules that fits everyone.

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    1. Fair enough! Nothing wrong with that- my brain has a similar reaction to pared down books a lot of the time, so I completely understand. Yes, one hundred percent agree- it’s all good and everybody can choose to read whatever suits them best 😀

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  11. Hm. I never really thought about this before. I’ve read Fitzgerald and enjoyed his work. This Side of Paradise is one of my favorite books. I haven’t read Hemingway though. * Ducks for cover * haha. BUT I have read Stephen King. The two novels I read, I didn’t like. It was more the story than the writing itself. I think I’m okay with both styles. It just depends on what I want to read at the moment. If I had to pick, I would probably choose Purple Prose. When done right, it makes for some of the most beautiful writing.

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    1. Well I’m really glad you enjoy his work too 🙂 hehe no worries- I’ve read a couple but it’s not for me, so I’d hardly judge 😉 That’s fair enough- for me it’s a combination of not being interested in a lot of the subject matter he deals with as well, but I also just can’t get into the writing. That’s fair! 😀 And cool- I agree with you 😀

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  12. I’m going to take this article as a parsonal and personal slight seeing as my entire wordpress site probably qualifies as purple prose. Just kidding…or am I? Don’t ask me what parsonal means.

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  13. Terrific post! I felt like I was reading a gateway pamphlet to the different styles of writing, which I loved. I’m personally more of a purple prose kind of gal, because it lends itself well to analysis and re-reading (although as you say, it can get pretentious at times, which is just the worst). Pared down is awesome too, but it has to be emotionally based for me; it can get much too cut and dry otherwise. 😉

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  14. “the Hemmingway-Fitzgerald Divide” I like that and totally get it though I’ve never read Hemmingway.
    …actually, I’m lying. I attempted it once and was bored out my mind after a paragraph or two, which is why I don’t count it as an actual read.
    I love Fitzgerald’s writing which is why I enjoyed reading the Great Gatsby and highlighted everything.
    I def lean toward purple prose — well done purple prose that leaves me in awe of the author’s writing.
    I don’t mind the pared down style and actually prefer it for thrillers and other plot-driven type stories that move along at a fast pace. But gosh, I love purple prose. It leaves me in a stupor everytime with my mind buzzing with the sentences I just read.

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    1. Ah brilliant- I’m glad that made sense! 😀
      hehe I understand- I really couldn’t get into Hemmingway either- it wasn’t for me- the only reason I stuck it out with two of them was because it was for uni, but it’s really not to my personal taste either.
      I absolutely love Fitzgerald too and snap!
      I’m definitely in agreement with you 😀
      And yeah that makes a lot of sense- I do think that it works well in that kind of writing for sure 🙂 I love how you put that- so agree!!

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  15. If both Hemmingway and Fitzgerald were in mortal danger and I could only save one of them…
    I’d save neither. Heck, I’d light the match for either of them.

    Now, if we were discussing Dickens, then no contest. I’m trying to think of a sparse prose author that I really like. Hmmm, Asimov. Then it becomes much harder to choose and since they wrote such different books, even genre isn’t any help.

    I also wonder if lengthy descriptive prose isn’t so much in style because a lot of the world can “see” the rest of the world through movies, tv and the internet now. If I’m writing about India, I don’t need to take a page to describe a saree, because my readers have more than likely seen one.

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    1. hahaha SACRILEGE! (I’d happily pick Fitzgerald, obviously 😉 )

      haha well, Dickens is more on the “purple” side than Hemmingway- but actually he uses an entirely different style- I’ve heard him referred to as a stylist, among other things. Either way, I love Dickens, so nice one 🙂 Yeah that’s true- genre seems to be a big factor in style choices.

      That’s an excellent point- I think that must be a factor in the rise of simpler language. Although there are still people (*cough* me) who like things described in detail, a lot of readers get frustrated with that and I understand why. Like you said, they’re probably familiar with it already- and if they’re not they can use google 😉

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  16. I’m totally going to enjoy this new series you’re starting. I just learned so much! I didn’t even know there were technical terms for this sort of thing. I think I fall somewhere in the middle. For example for a romance novel, I want all the purple prose especially I’d it’s executed extremely well but when it comes to like a murder mystery or psychological thriller or even just a YA sometimes, I just want the simple cause I find all the flowery langue distracts me or annoys me because I just want to get to the point. I always thought it was just my impatience though but maybe I do have a preferred taste after all. What a great post!!! I can’t wait for the next one! 😁

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    1. I’m so glad to hear that!! 😀 And I’m delighted it’s helpful- cos that’s exactly what I’m hoping for 🙂 I think that’s very fair- and it makes a lot of sense to me. I am seeing a trend for that as well 🙂 I think it makes complete sense for different styles to be employed in different scenes/genres- like you said it’s distracting in certain places. I think there’s elements of taste, but it’s also entirely logical 🙂 Thank you so much!! 😀

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  17. I’m a Fitzgerald gal all the way. Except when I’m occasionally not. I do think we spend too much time focusing on the writing trends of today when in reality successful writers are falling all over the place on this scale. Above all writing shouldn’t be about following a formula and reading shouldn’t be about looking for one. I enjoyed this post! Looking forward to reading more like it in the future.

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  18. Awesome post! Thank you for sharing it. It’s good to know thing for me. I don’t know much about literary terminology, I just enjoy good story and how it was presented.
    As per your example from Gatsby, I like that style, it was not that hard and was so beautiful but if it’s too old English with endless sentences, it does make me read again and again. I like simple presentation of things too but I don’t like if I can’t find emotional attachment with character. If it makes me slow and robotic then definitely no.

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  19. Love how you dissected both styles and gave a fair assessment on the pros and cons for both styles. I can totally enjoy both styles when they’re really well mastered by the author, especially if behind all the style, the plot, characters and/or themes are incredible. I also feel like sometimes.. it’s also a mood thing? A person might simply not be in a mood to go through purple prose and will consequently have a much sadder experience with the book, but then love it on a re-read. But taste is totally a huge factor too. Some people simply don’t want all the extra words and want to have to focus elsewhere while they read. Wonderful post! 😀

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you! Yeah I do understand that. And yeah that makes a lot of sense about it being a mood thing- I’m a massive mood reader, so being in the wrong mood can totally ruin a book for me. And yes for sure!
      Thank you! (and sorry for taking so long to reply!)

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  20. I think no matter what one prefers the idea of you do you stands out the most. I would probably say if choosing I’d lean more towards the pared down style but that is not to say I would hate if done the other way either. But as I often say every book out there will have those that love and those that hate, it’s just the name of the game and there is no right or wrong to what one enjoys when it’s all said and done.

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  21. Ok, first of all, I love the idea behind this post series, to highlight how everyone has different taste, and it doesn’t mean one way is better than the other.

    Now, for the discussion, I definitely see the merits of both and can enjoy both. I feel like I mostly enjoy somewhere in the middle? But like you, I LOVE when I find a book with a kind of lyrical writing and purple prose that just clicks with me. Yes, sometimes you find books with writing that doesn’t click, or it’s just done poorly and seems forced. But my absolute favorite books, the ones that get 5 whole stars from me, are usually ones with some sort of purple prose. Like you said, I find the pared down style to make me feel less emotion usually. But, you know, nothing is set in stone. It all just comes down to each individual book!

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    1. Thank you- I’m really glad you thought so!

      And yes I think that’s totally fair- I think a lot of people fall in the middle, and even when people prefer one, it doesn’t mean the other won’t do it for them. And yeah I’m the same!! I really relate!

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  22. I think both of these styles have their beauty and place. I tend to like simpler writing styles more, but every now and then enjoy something different as well. Or go to the extreme and then you have Cormac McCarthy, and it’s still brilliant.

    All those advice about writing, like the adverb thing, the adjective thing… well, i guess they are coming from a good place, and whoever said it, gave the advice based on what worked for them. Doesn’t mean it never happened, that i enjoyed a book that was full of them. Hehe.

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    1. yeah that’s very true and fair. I did actually love Cormac McCarthy, so that’s an excellent example 😀

      Yeah I do think they’re trying to help- and if people use it, then they can produce good art, it’ll just be in a particular style. The only trouble comes when people denigrate other styles because they’ve only ever heard one side of the argument. And sometimes I’ve seen people butcher perfectly good imagery, because while their instinct is to write more emotional purple prose, they’ve been told they shouldn’t. Both styles are fine- it’s just important for people to learn the difference and choose what works for them.

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  23. Uuuuh, I like this new feature! You go for trying all the different things on the blog 😀
    I am not sure I have a personal preference exactly. Mostly, I believe, it has to do with my mood. Sometimes I just want the straight up writing without too much elaboration but other days I adore the whole flowery and lyrical shebang.

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  24. A great and very informative article! I like that you are making a series of articles. Personally I am on the fence, maybe I prefer pared down a bit more but maybe that’s just because prose fails horribly when not done right.

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  25. An awesome post! as always 🙂
    For me, both the styles have their own charm. I would prefer Purple Prose in romantic story plots or in world-building. And, I would lean towards Pared down style when I am into some thriller, non-stop action reading.
    Having said that, I also strongly believe that- Too much of anything is bad. And, so the beauty lies in balancing it out. In Goldilocks’ words- It should be Just Right.

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  26. Really interesting topic and post!! For me “purple prose” immediately has a negative connotation, because as you’ve mentioned that’s the way it’s been used by critics, but I like to see you reframing it, because it’s true that the “too elaborate” in the definition is hazy and could include a lot of excellent, more ornate writing.

    I think I’m personally more on the pared down side of things… I guess because for me an engaging, moving and thought-provoking story is the most crucial thing, and if too much of the focus is on pretty words rather than the content, I lose interest. I recently gave up on a book that was beautifully and elaborately written because the plot lacked any mystery or sense of forward motion. That said, I’m not a fan of super-pared down style (e.g. Hemingway is a little too much in that direction for my personal taste), and I do really appreciate a beautiful, more embellished writing style if it is well done and perfectly wound with a spellbinding story (e.g. I love Laini Taylor and Maggie Stiefvater). I guess as a fantasy lover I also appreciate fascinating and evocative descriptions of new settings or worlds (as long as they don’t go overboard). Oh and I don’t like those rigid “never use an adverb” rules either!

    So I guess too far to either side of the spectrum and I’m not thrilled, though I’m probably more on the pared-down side of centre 🙂 Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

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    1. Thank you so much! I definitely think it’s been used so negatively and for reasons I don’t personally agree with (aka one style is better than another) so I think it’s about time it gets thought of a little differently 😉

      I think that’s very fair- there’s very logical reasons for people to prefer that. And at the same time, I get why people don’t like the extremes of both styles tbh. hehehe yeah, I definitely agree about how good purple prose can be for world building as well 😉 And yeah the adverb rule is irritating to me- especially because I’ll see people doing these really long annoying sentences instead 😉

      Very fair and I love how you broke down what taste works for you- I think it makes a lot of sense, because it’s really a spectrum when it comes to these things 🙂

      Like

  27. Oh this is such an interesting post and a promising new series for sure, I’ll be looking forward to more 🙂 I think that, personally… well it depends on my mood haha, I can really enjoy both styles, depending on the story, the author’s particular writing, just how… everything is set up and definitely, what I’m in the mood for 🙂 x

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  28. I prefer a simpler writing style, but do enjoy a good metaphor. I’m turned off when the style becomes more important than the story. You know what they say, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.”

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  29. Great post, when I read your definitions for purple prose and pared down writing the first author that came to mind (for purple prose) was Laini Taylor (I can’t actually think of too many authors I would say had a more pared down writing style than general you know?) I do love Laini Taylor’s books, Strange the Dreamer was actually a favourite read of mine and I’m currently reading the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy, but it takes me a while to fully get into her books because of the way they’re written. It’s the same with a lot of magical realism books too, it’s a beautiful story and I love the way it’s been written but it takes me a long time to get into the story. Guess that’s just kind of a side effect of the way it’s been written. 🙂
    Again great post. 🙂 ❤

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  30. Damn, I loved this! I hate literary snobbery of all kinds (the prejudice against ‘genre fiction’ is another pet peeve) – as you point out, both these extremes of prose writing can be brilliant or terrible, depending on who is working with them!

    I share your love of ‘purple’ prose, but ultimately I think the best writers can wield both these styles and a myriad in between to create the best effect. Actually, you said exactly that in your opening para I think.

    I’ve been trying to consciously work on both styles lately, writing stories that could be novellas in 600-word bursts. Or taking 600 words to move through a 5-second daydream sequence (actually, that one is online if anyone wants to indulge me: https://kinchkinski.com/2017/12/15/saw-them-safely-across/)

    Who are some of your preferred purveyors of purplest prose?

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    1. Thank you so much! I’m the same- I really don’t like literary snobbery and can’t stand genre snobbery as well (especially as I love reading across so many genres) Absolutely!

      I definitely think that too (and thanks for noticing that I said that as well 🙂 )

      That’s cool, I’ll check it out 😊

      Hmm, cool question, off the top of my head, my favourites (apart from Fitzgerald and the Romantic poets) would be some of the modern fantasy writers like Laini Taylor and Arden. Historically, probably D H Lawrence and Conrad (though I find it hard to classify his style). How about you?

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  31. In high school, my teachers were always frustrated with my writing style and marking me down because I didn’t write like Hemingway or Twain. I was frustrated because, even then, I knew that short sentences are not inherently “better” writing. Short sentences work well in some cases and not in others. And long sentences can actually be clear sentences.

    I don’t have anything against adjectives and tend to use them pretty liberally in my writing. My pet peeve, however, is when writers truly don’t know when to stop. Every single noun in a sentence probably shouldn’t have an adjective attached to it. For example: “I walked happily out into the warm spring sunshine and stepped onto the grey pebbled path, my light pink dress rustling in the playful breeze as I headed towards the clear blue lake” is too much for me.

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    1. Oh that’s incredibly frustrating! I’ve often found my writing style has put people off for the same reason- and obviously it’s fair my writing’s not for everyone- it seems ludicrous to denigrate a more flowery style given it’s what I prefer to read (though I’ll admit my writing is distinctively less flowery than it used to be)

      I can understand that- I think that there’s a difference when someone is actually *saying* something with their use of abundant adjectives etc- if (and I hope you don’t mind me referring to your example) the whole thing can be reduced to two words: “I skipped” (ie “I’m happy”) then it’s not worth having an over-complicated sentence. It’s actually the same reason that I hate the “don’t use adverbs” rule- because I don’t actually like faff. So yeah, there are definitely plenty of ways to do it wrong 😉

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      1. I think it is possible to use many adjectives and do it well, but I am not confident I could break it down and explain coherently when adjectives are working and when they are not! So, yeah, I can see why purple prose can be attractive, but I’m not sure I could explain to someone why I think one example is effective and another makes me want to scream, haha. ;b

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        1. hehe well I think there’s multiple levels: is it saying something different, is it expanding the point, is it cliche, is it emotive, is it faff, is it relevant, is it random etc. For me, it gets especially annoying when it doesn’t even fit 😉 (I keep thinking of real examples, but don’t want to give them lol- I remember what you said about not liking real examples, cos, yeah, it’s a bit mean to the author!)

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  32. Thanks for giving me the language with which to talk about two books I tried to read recently but couldn’t finish – The Watcher In the Shadows by Carlos Luis Zafon and The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton. Both of these were purple prose gone horribly wrong for me 😦

    As a fantasy/horror/psychological book fan, I should really be into that, but I’m leaning more and more towards simpler styles of writing because of books like these. Prose is awesome when done right, but the commenter above nailed it – if every sentence is completely overwrought, it becomes unreadable. In both of the above, the characters were just names adrift on a churning ocean of adjectives (haha), and the language ended up becoming a huge distraction from the plot/characters.

    (Not that the simpler style doesn’t have its pitfalls – IMO, the Hunger Games was so simply written that none of it felt as real/urgent/dramatic/emotional to me as it should have. But like you said, it’s all a matter of personal taste!)

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  33. I still don’t get it, which style do you prefer? 😉😉😂
    This was so much fun to read! But now I’m slightly worried for myself because I actually love both styles!! Am I schizophrenic?! If I were forced to choose for the benefit of humanity which literary form would be allowed to survive, I simply wouldn’t be able to! 😂

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  34. What a great comparison post! I’d love to read more like this one…! I didn’t expect you to pick the lyrical writing style but I can kind of see it in your love of adult fantasy. Personally I find purple prose rather heavy if not done just so… and actually its hard to pull off well without me skimming some of this. But a Hemingway lover I am not, lol. Different writing styles are cool to me, I feel like there is room for everyone’s style of writing… its never been a matter of right or wrong so much as taste pure and simple. ❤

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  35. I love this post! I definitely would love to see this blog series continue — just by reading this post, I feel like I’ve learned several new things about literature. To add on to why purple prose has gotten a bad reputation, I think it partly may be due to the school curriculum. The higher up I got in school, the more emphasis was placed on academic instead of creative writing. As a result, the words “concise” and “to-the-point” were heard as more of praises describing a student’s work, while “over-elaborate” and “containing run-on sentences” are now seen as huge no-nos for writing. Perhaps that could translate into people’s preference for literature? 🤔 Great post!

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  36. Sorry just catching up on your blog…my initial response to this was “urgh, I hate purple prose” – I find it completely pretentious and, frankly, wanky. Then you started listing books as examples of the style (genre?) and I thought, oh, I love that book, and that one, ohh the Lonely Hearts Hotel is such a beautiful book… so it seems that I do enjoy it after all but only if it’s done so well that I don’t notice it. Stealth purple prose, if you will. As soon as it becomes obvious that a writer has included metaphors or rambling sentences for no good reason, I’m immediately out.

    Similarly, I think a pared down style can work well if it’s consistent and fits with the overall theme of the book – like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. However, I often find easy read books like Stephen Kings somehow…lacking. There’s some kind of emotional or intellectual depth at which I don’t engage, so instead of feeling satisfied when I’ve finished them, I tend to just feel a bit empty.

    Ironically, I write in the floweriest way imaginable and spend my life editing out the rambling bits of waffle that invade everything I produce. I annoy myself so much!

    Really thought provoking post, well done for explaining both sides so concisely 😊

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    1. hehehe honestly, I think any style can be wanky 😉 Like you said, it’s good when it’s done well. haha stealth purple prose is a good term 😉 And yeah, I don’t think you’ll even notice most of the time if it’s done well. But yeah, it can easily veer into random metaphors and pointless description (and so many stream of consciousness books have purple prose- though the issue there is more of a structural one, so I don’t put that down to how colourful the language is)

      And yeah I definitely think that. Ooh that’s a fantastic example! I love Curious Incident! But yeah, I also have trouble with King- most of the ones I’ve tried I’ve DNF’d out of boredom and even the one I finished, I had zero emotional connection. Funnily enough, it was that meh feeling that made me swear off him for good. Yeah I definitely feel empty when I read those, that’s a good way to put it.

      hahaha no worries, I actually like reading/writing that stuff too. haha!

      Thank you so much! 😊

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      1. I think you’ve finally nailed my feelings about Stephen King. I’ve spent years trying to work out what it was about his writing that meant I raced through the books but felt so flat after I’d finished them. I thought it was just his shit endings! I hadn’t consider that it’s his style of writing that I wasn’t connecting with. Now I can finally explain why I don’t enjoy his books without sounding like an idiot! Thank you! 😊

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        1. Ah I’m glad I’m not the only one that feels that way about king- I mean I totally get why people like his books- a lot of his stories and concepts are cool- but I’ve never personally connected and that’s a big deal for whether I’ll fall for a book or not. I’m glad! 😀

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  37. Hello!
    Love this post so much! After reading your post, I can see the pros and cons of both styles. I can see how either purple prose or pared down prose could be done well, or very poorly. Personally I tend to lean towards pared down prose, because my attention span is short and I like simplicity. However I can see that when done poorly, it can make it difficult to follow the story or understand the characters.
    Great post! Looking forward to more from this series 🙂

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