We all have specific writing styles that we gravitate to. And it’s interesting how one style can resonate so strongly with one person and totally turn someone else off. I was reading a review of A Thousand Perfect Notes the other day and the blogger mentioned that while she didn’t dislike the book, she wasn’t a fan of the purple prose. My response: “WHAT? That’s my favorite part!”
First off, I should give a little definition of purple prose, in case you’re not familiar. Wikipedia says:
“In literary criticism, purple prose 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 excessive use of adjectives, adverbs, and metaphors.”
Okay, well when you put it that way, it sounds pretty negative. But I guess everyone has a different threshold for when flowery language starts to draw excessive attention to itself. Typically, I’m a fan of metaphorical language. I love it when a line stands out and makes me think about its beauty. And I realized …
I love purple prose. (Or, you know, if you want to get all vernacular: I love me some purple prose.)
There, I said it. Metaphorical language pulls me deeper into a book rather than breaking the flow of the story. Unless you count the fact that I’m sometimes so blown away by a line that I need to read it out loud.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t want a story that’s all flowery language and no substance. I don’t want to have to puzzle through every line and figure out what the heck the author’s trying to say. But a well-placed line of gorgeous writing … sings.
So, I stand behind my love of purple prose. (You’ll even find a bit of it in my own writing.) Maybe it’s not for everyone, but that’s okay. We all have our own tastes. That’s part of what makes reading so subjective.
If you’re a fan of a bit of purple prose, like me. You might want to try reading:
“Cheerfulness is irritating, but it suits some people. Some people are born for sunlight and orange peel smiles and running on the beach and wildflowers in their hair.
Other people are born for nonexistence.”
“If he were a piano, all his strings would have snapped”
“My words are unerring tools of destruction, and I’ve come unequipped with the ability to disarm them.”
“As Adam stared at his lap, penitent, he mused that there was something musical about Ronan when he swore, a careful and loving precision to the way he fit the words together, a black-painted poetry. It was far less hateful sounding than when he didn’t swear.”
“Secrets are curious things. They are flimsy and easily broken. For this reason, they prefer to remain hidden.”
“Four p.m. is like a basement. Wholly innocent in theory. But if you really think about a basement, it is cement poured over restless earth. It has smelly, unfinished spaces, and wooden beams that cast too-sharp shadows. It is something that says almost, but not quite. Four p.m. feels that way, too. Almost, but not quite afternoon anymore. Almost, but not quite evening yet. And it is the way of magic and nightmares to choose those almost-but-not-quite moments and wait.”
“It’s all going to be okay. She would like to hear that now, even if it was a lie. Because some lies are beautiful. Stories do not tell you that.”
“Hazel wanted to ask him what he was thinking, what he was feeling, if he was regretting the witch or was just too tired to think, if he was embarrassed that the princess had rescued the knight or if he didn’t mind so much now that it had happened, if he remembered everything that had passed, if he was mad at himself for going with the witch, if his warm blood was winning the battle against the water in his veins; she wanted to reach out and grab the things in his mind and heart and hold them so they could examine them together, but they were not hers to take.”
I also really like more descriptive language in books! It’s hypnotic, in a way, and when done well makes it much easier to fall into a story. That doesn’t mean I haven’t come across some terrible examples of purple prose in all my reading, but overall I gravitate towards that style of writing 🙂
Yeah, there are definitely some cases where it goes overboard and it’s too much even for me, but a bit of this type of writing makes a book that much stronger for me.
The Raven Boys is next up in my reading queue so we’ll see how it goes ? I love that you made this a discussion topic!
You’ll have to let me know what you think!!
I spent most of my life doing scientific or technical writing, and oddly enough, I really like the flowery prose when I read it in a book. I don’t need that, when I want to know how to do something, but when I am pleasure reading, I enjoy it.
I used to be a business analyst (many eons ago), and I wrote a lot of user and technical documentation. Maybe that’s why I appreciate gorgeous writing too! 🙂
It took some time for me to realize that purple prose was not for me. It wasn’t something I had thought a lot about but when I started thinking about what I didn’t enjoy about certain books I was able to see a common thread: purple prose. Hence why I read one book by Maggie Stiefvater and never continued. Read one by Jandy Nelson and never continued. Now I can sometimes tell by the blurbs or the reviews what to steer clear from. Thank goodness there is something out there for all of us! 🙂
Yes, we all have our preferences, which is why it’s great that there are different types of books out there—something for everyone!
I do like a bit of purple prose now and again! It really adds to a story if done well, or if the story and language fit. I always thought of purple prose as more of an eye rolling, overly florid type of writing, often found in older works, but after reading this I’m kind of revising my opinion a bit! Not just over the top writing but metaphorical language- or just plain beautiful writing- that can inspire or make the reading experience so much more meaningful. What an awesome topic!
I actually do think that’s what purple prose is supposed to mean—that it’s overdone and makes you roll your eyes. It can certainly be that way, and obviously not every metaphor is a good one. But I find, more often than not, when a reviewer complains about purple prose in a book, it’s a style that I actually like. (As with Cait’s book.)
I love purple prose when it’s done well! I feel like oftentimes the difference between 4.5 or 5 stars for me is the writing. Some beautifully done flowery writing can really push a book over the edge and make me so happy while reading.
Exactly. It has to be done well, but when it is, it makes such a difference!
I do like purple prose! I think Maggie Stiefvater is a great example, and I STILL need to read Cait’s book. I’m a big fan of books that have gorgeous writing – maybe not every single line, but if I can find quotes that are just “YES” then I love that. I think Laini Taylor is a great writer too – though I’ve only read the Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy by her so far. 🙂
Definitely pick up Cait’s book, then. You won’t be sorry!
Well, I think I’m about to repeat what’s already been said here, but I do love purple prose when they’re handled by a master. I love Maggie Stiefvater’s writing. Also Laini Taylor. Also anything by Elizabeth Goudge.
I’ve bought Cait’s book but I still need to read it. I am currently drowning in library books. The snippet you posted makes me even itchier to start reading ATPN, though!
I’m so glad you wrote about this topic!
Now I’ll have to check out Elizabeth Goudge. I haven’t read her.
Excessive amounts of anything will get on my nerves, but I like unusual writing. I don’t mind if it’s experimental or draws attention to itself. However, I don’t like when the writing slows the story down. With some authors, I feel like I’m reading a ton of words, but nothing is happening. I also don’t like when the flowery language gets in the way of the meaning. (This is one of my issues with poetry. I need to understand the meaning of what I’m reading.) I remember reading The Wrath & The Dawn and going, “What are you even talking about, book?! This sentence doesn’t MEAN anything. It’s just words.”
Oh, actually TWatD is a good example of a book that I wasn’t crazy about, even though I loved some of the imagery. I agree that some of the language made me have to think TOO much (and even then, there were times I didn’t quite get it), but my biggest issue with that book was just that it was very light on plot. I want gorgeous writing that takes me somewhere. But lots of people loved that book, so this is just another example of how a book can work for one person and not for another. That’s why we need ALL the books!! 🙂
I don’t know. Sometimes I like it and sometimes I don’t. Probably depends on the author and mood I am in. I love Jandy Nelson which I think would be considered purple prose. But I know I have read some that I didn’t like.
I do think Jandy Nelson would fit into this category. I love her too. Of course, there are lots of things besides this particular aspect into a book that help us form our opinions, so there might be books that have this type of prose that I like and some that I don’t. But, overall, I’m a fan.
I was just thinking about this because I’m currently reading All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater and loving all the purple prose in it. The flowery writing is actually what hooked me from page one. Some other books that I loved because of the beautiful writing include All the Light We Cannot See, where I couldn’t understand half of what Anthony Doerr wrote, but was enjoying the lyrical prose too much to care, and Shatter Me, which I read slowly in order to savor every description and metaphor.
Stiefvater finds the most exquisitely interesting ways to describe even the littlest things, like an eyebrow quirk. I will forever love her. Now I want to read All the Light as well.
I like purple prose, but only in small instances! I find it very beautiful, but I easily get taken out of the story. Only if I’m really into the book I’m not taken it out. If I’m not loving the book though, I tend to get annoyed by it. I loved the quote you shared for A Thousand Perfect Notes! Hopefully it’s available at my local library! 🙂
I hope you get to read ATPN. If they don’t have it at your library, you should request that they buy it!
So I agree, I love it too. BUT there’s a caveat- if the author is writing this way and it feels natural, I am all in. But sometimes… sometimes it feels like an author is trying too hard? Or perhaps, trying to cover up a lack of plot or character development? In which case, I get even madder, and I have no idea why! But Cait’s book is the perfect example of it done RIGHT- it doesn’t overtake the book, it just adds a lot of loveliness to it! Great post!!
Yes, there are definitely cases where it doesn’t feel natural. Not the case with Cait’s book. At all.
I had no idea what purple prose was when I read the title of your post but I am definitely a fan of it if it fits the book… what I mean is that there are some books that use purple prose but it doesn’t really fit the story or it’s a way too intentional purple prose – does that make sense? – that it feels forced or shallow…
Anyway, great post and thank you for the opportunity to learn something new!
I agree that there are books where the prose feels a little forced. But when it’s done well, it’s wonderful!
I love purple prose, as long as it’s done well. I think Laini Taylor is a master at writing beautiful, metaphorical descriptions. She’s one of my auto-buy authors.
Yes, Laini Taylor is a fantastic example!
So, I’m going to argue that your choices of excerpts here are not purple. They’re just well-written. “Purple” is definitely overblown and jarring, so maybe what you like a lavender or violet shade of writing. Lol. I actually wrote about this on my blog a few years ago, and I ran across it this week as I was doing my whole site audit.
Also, have you read UNTEACHABLE by Leah Raeder (now known as Elliot Wake)? Because that had some of the most beautiful writing in it I have ever read.
You’re very right. Reading that review (and other similar reviews of other books) just made me realize how subjective the definition of purple prose is. Often, when a reviewer deems a book full of purple prose, I deem it beautiful writing. I think we all have different thresholds for metaphorical language. Mine is higher than a lot of people’s (I think), but I definitely have a limit—I’ve read some books where the writing IS overblown and jarring to me.
I’ll have to go back and read your post about your style. And thanks for the recommendation of Unteachable. I’d heard of it but hadn’t paid much attention to it.
This is a hard one. I tend to not be drawn towards this kind of writing. Although, I LOVE Maggie Stiefvater. Honestly, I think that I kind of skip over a lot of that kind of detail as I read, skimming to get to the actual story. Which is probably why when I used to have time to re-read, I would always discover new details in books I loved, because I’d skimmed so much the first time through. Fun post!
You’re not the only one. There are definitely people who prefer more straightforward writing, and that’s just fine.
I love purple prose if it doesn’t contain a lot of “You know?” after. A Thousand Perfect Notes moved up higher on my TBR since I learned CG is autistic. In school, teachers got upset because I wrote in purple prose a lot, so I feel a struggle in regards to writing more like myself. Journalism also beats that out of you. For me, purple prose helps me to better paint the picture in my mind. I want the details as much as possible, because leaving me to my own imagination to fill in the gaps results in me misunderstanding something later down the line—like a purple dress I envisioned lighter than the maroon the author later said it was. Bad example. Ninth City Burning is a good example of a lack of purple prose where needed and too much world-building. I rated it too well because I got hyped up, but I had to reread a lot of it—if things had been described better instead of being left to the reader’s imagination, I would’ve been able to visualize everything better. I feel like purple prose feeds my autistic brain so it can figure out what is going on.
I’m glad that ATPN has moved on your list. It’s always nice when you know that you can connect with an author as well as their book. It’s interesting to hear how autism affects your reading experience.
Oh this is such an interesting discussion! I think I mostly tend to love purple prose, I love reading a book and getting completely lost in the writing style, I’m always amazed when some writers are able to make words really alive with their metaphors and writing and just give the world a completely different dimension with it all. I do have to be in the right mood for it though, I think, otherwise it just makes me a bit confused haha 🙂 I LOVE these excerpts you put there, I’m even more eager to get to Cait’s book now <3
I agree that there are times when metaphorical language can cross over to confusing, but I do generally love it!
The good kinda purple prose are the ones that do not remind us we are reading purple prose. Like the ones in ATPN. I love them when they are done beautifully. I love The virgin Suicide despite it being heavy with prose while I hate most books written by Dan Brown.
I agree that Cait does a great job adding in imagery and metaphor that blends seamlessly with the rest of the writing. You certainly don’t want a book where the language overtakes the story.
I like purple prose, as long as I can still understand what it’s on about! All your examples sound beautiful, but are totally understandable, so that’s the kind I like.
I’m not so keen though on some books (some classics and books considered to be modern classics for example) though where the author makes it so obscure with description or weird metaphors that I have no idea what they’re on about. Or if it sounds super pretentious!
But for the most part, I love me some purple prose too! 🙂
Yeah, I’m in agreement there. Sometimes a book crosses from being beautiful to being “what the heck?” And pretentious definitely isn’t my thing either.
I do like purple prose if it’s done in moderation and in a way I enjoy. It all depends upon the story, the characters and how those moments of beautiful words all end up fitting together. That’s super vague but I don’t know how else to explain myself. 😉 I never realized that it had an actual name, so thanks for bringing that to my attention!
Usually when people use the term purple prose, they don’t mean it in a good way. It’s meant to mean that the language is overblown and distracting. But I find that often when people complain about purple prose in a book, I actually find that I’ve enjoyed it. It’s pretty subjective.
Sorry for my ignorance but I am not that familiar with the term “purple prose”. I’ll look it up later but if it’s the same as having a lyrical or poetic quality to the writing, then I am all for it. 🙂
That’s pretty much it. I included the definition (from Wikipedia) up at the top of the post in case people weren’t sure. 🙂
I’m not really a fan of purple prose when it gets to be that I forget what’s being talked about… BUT like a couple of your example I do enjoy when some great turns of phrases are used well. ❤️ There are so many levels of purple prose though… I guess you have to gauge your level author by author. Great post and love hearing your thoughts.
Yeah, even I certainly have a limit to what feels acceptable. Like, if I have to puzzle my way through the book because there’s so much purple prose—no thank you!
I love me some purple prose, just like you. I like it as a reader, and also as a writer. I will definitely have some in own novel (and I’m more a poet than a novelist, which maaaay be where my love of purple prose comes from.) 😛 But yes, I loved Stiefvater’s writing in the Raven Cycle! I also really love world building – along with characterisation and themes when it comes to reading. World building usually links to purple prose at some point, so I am all for it.
Stiefvater has such a way with words—she describes things in surprising and wonderful ways. I love it!
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I think your examples of purple prose are great, but it’s got to be GOOD purple prose. There is such a thing as TOO MUCH and also BAD purple prose. When it gets to be gratuitous, or when it’s just a bunch of adjectives thrown in there that are just cluttering up the page without actually saying anything and contributing anything, that’s where it crosses over from a thing of literary beauty into the “ew, gross” category.
Definitely true. I’ve just realized lately that the idea of how much is too much can be really subjective too. (And even the quality, I suppose—though there’s some examples that I think almost anyone would agree are bad.)
I think I’m a fan of purple prose, as long as it’s not every single line. Then I just get bogged down, and my brain is just unable to process what I’m reading.
See, the thing with me is I’m a very visual reader. When I read, my imagination takes over, and rather than reading words on a page, I’m a mind-reading ghost who is following the characters around; I see everything, hear everything, smell everything, etc. (Which can be annoying at times when a book tries to tell a character looks a certain way, when my imagination has decided that they don’t. The books may say that Hagrid has a beard, but he absolutely does not.) I really don’t think I would enjoy reading if it was just words on a page. So when it comes to purple prose, I am a little thrown out of my reading, because it’s not something I can see, it’s an idea. I can’t see “orange peel smiles”, for example, unless someone is actually putting an orange peel in their mouth in the story. However, it’s generally written so, so beautifully that it doesn’t matter? Because I’m then just like “Woah. Look at the art here. Look at the skill it took to put these words together in this sentence in this very specific way to convey XYZ, and have it sound so beautiful!”
Laini Taylor writes beautifully. As does Heidi Heilig. And one of my favourite things about Lauren Oliver’s writing is the imagery. It just blows my mind, because I think only part of it is skill as an author? I think the other part is how the author thinks. I am not an author, but if I were, my writing would have no purple prose, because I just don’t think like that, I don’t think of those comparisons to make those metaphors. So while I am in awe of the art, I’m also in awe of the author’s brain, and want to climb inside it and just see how they think. Because it just must be so beautiful in their head.
So yes, I am a fan! As long as it doesn’t give my brain too much of a work out, and throw me out of the story too often.
I agree with all of this. There certainly can be a point where the purple prose overtakes the plot and you just spend your time puzzling through what the author is really trying to say. But in general, I love that lush language!
Little late to the discussion table here ;p but I’m so glad I found this post! As a poet turned writer who has just released her debut novel, my writing is littered with poetic references. And it is so nice to see others holding a deep appreciation for purple prose…for me it evokes added emotion within the story. 🙂