Venturing Into the Gray Areas with Purple Prose

Keep your writing clear and coherent, and avoid pretentious or overly formal language.  Write to communicate, not to impress. Say what you mean, and mean what you say. Don’t dumb down, but don’t let your writing get in the way of your message. There’s a fine line between elegance and pomposity.

Mark Nichols, “7 Tips for Editing to Improve Usage” @ DailyWritingTips

Excellent advice.  The only problem is, where’s that “fine line between elegance and pomposity”?  The short answer is, no one really knows because it’s different for everyone.  One person’s purple prose is another’s beautiful description.  One type of writing might warrant lots of elegance, style, and 25-cent words, while another might require you to be short and sweet.  Or, you might need to use one style or the other for effect.

It takes practice to determine what’s best for yourself and your writing, and your preferences/needs may change over time.  Nichols, however, has some good guidelines that we should follow:

1.  Always be clear about your meaning.  Pretty writing is fine but don’t let it cloud the point you’re trying to make in writing.  Your readers should always know what you’re trying to say.

2.  Get rid of ulterior motives.  As a teacher/tutor I see this problem a lot.  Many new students, particularly college freshmen, write in exceptionally elevated and complex ways because they think that’s what they should be doing.  Instead of sounding formal and sophisticated, however, often it just comes out as contrived and stiff.  Don’t try to impress people with your vocabulary or prowess in using 4-line sentences that aren’t run-ons.  Just write.

3.  Know that the line is there.  If you understand that there is such a thing as being too grand, or being too basic, you’re less likely to fall into either trap.  You’ll be more aware of your writing and of how it comes across to readers.  If you find that you’re not, well, that’s what beta readers are for.


Descriptive Writing From Photographs  @ ProjectGrad

Descriptive Writing Practice — $2.00 download in my TpT Store

Writing Concisely @ The UNC Writing Center Online


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