It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents, except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.’  Opening sentence of the novel Paul Clifford by Edward George Bulwer-Lytton.

The temptation for some writers is to ‘lay it on thick’ in the belief that, if they embellish their prose with as many descriptive words as possible, it will draw the reader in.  In combination with obscure and little-used words, it contributes to what modern writers refer to as ‘Purple Prose’.

An ornate, flowery and florid style breaks the flow, slows the pace and calls blatant attention to itself. It would take a very indulgent reader to get through a whole novel filled of the kind of writing quoted above.

Unusual Words.

Use with care. In creative writing we can get away with using a wider vocabulary than in conversation, but being too ‘wordy’ can put a reader off, especially when those words are archaic or obscure.  No reader can truly enjoy a novel which requires a dictionary.


Adjectives describe and qualify nouns, but they can also distract.  Some writers are tempted to overload their pages with them, to ensure we get the point: ‘A bright, warm, glorious sunny day.’

The intent is for us to picture what the writer pictures, and he does this by telling us what we should visualise, what we should feel. Instead of triggering our imagination, though, it sets up a whole series of cues that interfere with one another, thwarting our ability to picture the scene for ourselves. Less is more anyone?

‘A sunny day.’  This simple description works better because given that single trigger, a reader automatically summons a sunny day into their mind from their own memory.  They’ve lived it, they can feel it.  The simple cue takes them ‘there’ instantly.

So the rule is, keep adjectives to a minimum. Not all nouns need them, and those that do only need one, not a whole list.


Adverbs accompany verbs (oddly enough), which are doing words.  Adverbs serve to tell us how the verb is performed. Cut them out.  All of them, preferably. Instead of making the verb stronger, it weakens it.  Most of the time, a verb that ‘needs’ an adverb is probably inappropriate for the situation.  Adverbs are often identifiable as ‘ly’ words.

He moved quickly to the emergency exit./He ran to the emergency exit.

Sometimes they can sneak in there as padding:

She was fully aware of his feelings./She was aware of his feelings. (Since she either is or isn’t aware, the ‘fully’ is redundant.)

Visit tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/PurpleProse for a brilliant article on so-called ‘Purple Prose’.


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