Part of the "Variety Is the Spice of Life, and I Need Some Tums" set of essays. For the others, see
Epithets: Fandom's Designated Hitters | Said Is Not a Four-Letter Word

written December 2004


Purple Fanfic's (total lack of) Majesty

by Arduinna


At some point in their past, some authors were told "repetition is bad! Use a thesaurus to vary your words!" They were told to use description, to paint pictures with words. Pretty good advice, but as with so many things, it's meant to be taken in moderation and used with specific intent. Taken to the extreme, it leads to the purplest of prose.

But how to define purple prose, exactly? It's elaborate, excessively ornate, overblown writing. The first clue is the level of descriptive detail; the second is the type of description. Often, there are adjectives attached to pretty much every noun, or the nouns and verbs shift to something the author thinks is more "fancy", or both.

Jim's eyes warmed as he noticed the scared little girl


Jim's blue eyes warmed...

(not yet purple)


Jim's cerulean eyes warmed...

(we have purple sign)


Jim's cerulean orbs warmed...



Jim's cerulean-blue orbs lost their icy hue and gained a warmth as his gaze fell upon the frightened waif.

(heading for ultraviolet)

Not all highly descriptive writing is purple, by a long shot. Some authors are gifted at lush, lyrical prose, carefully crafting every sentence to evoke a mood and image that helps to carry the story along. The key there is that it helps the story; it isn't there simply for the sake of imagery, and the story isn't there simply as an excuse to show off the author's vocabulary. And it evokes the mood and image -- it doesn't hammer it into the poor reader's brain until she gives in and accepts it.

Even among purple stories, there are different levels. In the hands of a reasonably skilled writer, purple prose is merely tiring to read -- the reader has to constantly hold all of the author's mental images in her own mind, and never has the chance to build her own, because the author isn't using the images to move the story but instead is using them for their own sake. As a result, it's also distancing; if the reader is unable to create her own version of the author's world, she has no real connection with it.

In the hands of an unskilled writer, purple prose is often simply ludicrous; "cerulean-blue orbs" is a case in point.

Usually I make up examples when I'm showing things about writing, but for the rest of this page I'm taking passages from actual stories, so that no one thinks I'm exaggerating for effect. I'm going from well-written purple down through incomprehensible, and I'm using stories from a variety of fandoms (and a mix of gen, slash, and het). My "ratings" have nothing to do with the story the author is telling, simply the writing skill that went into it.

If you want to see the original stories, email me and I'll send you the URL. I'm not posting the titles or authors here, though -- this isn't about pointing fingers at individual stories or authors, just looking at different ways of handling purple prose.




Skilled: Pirates of the Caribean

This is quite well written. The author understands the words she's using and has a strong grasp of sentence and paragraph structure, with a nice sense of flow. She has carefully maintained a specific tone and feel throughout -- there's nothing jarring here. For the most part, she avoids using overly fancy substitutes for plainer words; she builds her imagery using words that everyone will know and understand. She also uses an omniscient POV, which allows for much greater latitude in describing things. This author knows her stuff.

Despite all that, this is purple prose. It's not just that it consists mainly of image on top of image; it's that most of it is there for no other reason than to be imagery. It adds nothing to the story. The further in she goes, the more caught up she gets in the images she's building, until the minor points she's trying to illustrate with them are lost.

A fine day had come to Port Royal. The sky was bright and blue, dotted haphazardly by puffs of cottony white, and the sun was warm and cheery in its reign over the land. The sea was calm, lapping at the shores and docks with the repetitive tickling of a lover. A cool breeze served to lessen the press of the midday heat, ruffling trees and flowers as it brushed by, weaving its way randomly through the town. It carried with it the scent of the ocean, that sort of lingering tang that eased the spirit and suggested to the heart that certain things remained constant in life when all else seemed to change whimsically. Warm days offered a sense of security that could often lure the soul to defy the senses and truly believe that men could be as calm or as invariable as the sea on a day such as this. That there was good in the world. That there was yet some mark of morality, some lasting fairness inherit in the workings of all things.

The only technical problem here is "inherit" -- it should be "inherent". Probably a slip of the fingers that didn't get caught and corrected. Beyond that, the writing itself is solid -- but it's definitely purple.

The first two-thirds is highly anthropomorphized, making the day, the sun, the sea, the wind, the ocean's salty tang, all into their own characters. Each "character" is also given multiple descriptors; nothing can stand on its own in this. Boiled down, it all means "The day was sunny and bright, with a cool seabreeze easing the midday heat as waves lapped gently against the shores and docks." Granted, that may be a bit too sparse, and a little more description wouldn't hurt. But it isn't necessary, either, and certainly not to the extreme that this author went to.

All of that buildup is leading to the last part of the paragraph, where the imagery starts floundering as the author tries to get to her point.

Warm days offered a sense of security

This is set in the Caribbean. Most days are warm there, so it doesn't make sense to suggest that just because this day is warm it's something special that people particularly notice and react to. So a phrase that would work well in, say, Sentinel fiction is overblown here, almost cloying.

lure the soul to defy the senses

I'm not sure what that means; it's got a pretty sound to it, but I don't understand it as it's written. My guess is that she was trying for something that meant "beautiful days can tempt you to ignore what you know from experience, and see only the good in people" -- but "defy" is very different from "ignore", and "the senses" is very different from "experience/knowledge". Worse, she spent most of the paragraph talking about how the day is experienced through the senses, so here, she seems to be saying that the beauty of the day should lure one into... defying what the senses are telling one about the beauty of the day.

believe that men could be as calm or as invariable as the sea on a day such as this

"Invariable" isn't a word that springs to mind about the sea, when you live near it. People appreciate the calm, pretty days, but they don't expect them to last. The sea is eternal, but ever-changing.

there was yet some mark of morality, some lasting fairness inherit in the workings of all things.

This is a hell of a reach -- the sun is shining, and therefore life is fair? And yet, this is the point of the entire paragraph. I think what she's going for is that people tend to have a more positive outlook on pleasant days, but by bringing in souls and the entire ocean and so forth, she's attached so much importance to the idea that it collapses under its own weight.

So, highly paraphrased, the first paragraph basically says "It was a fine day in Port Royal, the sort of day that made people feel good about life and their fellow man." From there, the second paragraph picks up:

The sea, after all, did not judge. It could save or kill. It could love or hate, and it did so without question and without thought to social status, breeding, or riches. It was an impartial beast that took as it gave without condescending thought or derogatory remark. Arguably such an indifference to the frivolities that men deemed importance could be seen as cold and cruel, but for most it was a simple reminder that the true forces in the world were not blinded by wealth or status. In that, the sea was the best murderer, the best mother, the best lover. She was blind and yet saw all. She caressed with cold currents and warmed with gentle sprays. She was as violent as she was vibrant. And, on a day like this, she sang to men’s hearts, to pirate and lawful man alike. The whistle of the waves upon the wind, the smell of the salty water… these were the things that beckoned and welcomed men into her endless embraces. These were the things that never changed and that saw a soul for what it was, not for what it couldn’t be.

Again, this paragraph has one small technical error -- "importance" should be "important" -- that was probably either a typo or didn't get caught when she reworked the sentence. It's minor enough to speedbump easily.

As for the rest, this is entirely description for the sake of description, nothing more, and it weighs down the story she started to set up in the first paragraph. She's completely ignored the point of that first paragraph to wallow in more descriptive terms, backtracking into extreme anthropomorphization as she turns the sea into a character with its own agenda and purpose. From the sound of this, readers could easily expect this story to be about the ocean as a main character, possibly even including the ocean's POV at some point. (I skimmed a few more paragraphs after this, and following this paragraph the story shifts immediately to the people of Port Royal, leaving the ocean behind.)

And despite the anthropormorphizing, the bulk of this boils down to "The sea isn't human, but rather is a force of nature."

The whistle of the waves upon the wind, the smell of the salty water… these were the things that beckoned and welcomed men into her endless embraces. These were the things that never changed and that saw a soul for what it was, not for what it couldn’t be.

This makes no real sense to me. She's spent the entire paragraph explaining that the sea is a mass of contradictory human facets, making it an incredibly powerful force of nature -- but it's the smell of the ocean and the sound of the waves (not the ocean per se, just the human perception of its most basic surface traits) that never change, and that do all the work of "seeing a soul".

In the final phrase, she gets so caught up in what she's trying to say that she trips over herself, clanging painfully on "not for what it couldn't be".

Since nothing else clangs anywhere in these paragraphs, the feeling that I get from this is that she felt she had to have a point of some kind, to justify all the imagery she wanted to put in, so she forced one with the last two sentences of this paragraph. Unfortunately, forcing a point rarely works, and it didn't here.

I had to stop after these two paragraphs, because by the time I hit the end of the second one, I was confused and exhausted already.


Competent: The Sentinel

Again, an author with a solid grasp on sentence and paragraph structure. While she also uses easily understandable words, though, they tend to build slightly more over-the-top imagery than in the first example, and they're sometimes used in ways that are slightly incorrect (e.g., at one point she uses "interior" when she should use "internal"). But the biggest difference is that where the above passage was written in an omniscient POV, this is written as Blair's internal narrative, and as a result, the tone feels not just purple, but off. The author is forcing an artificial voice onto Blair, making this inherently weaker than the first example.

For the flash of a second, I wavered between looking at him defiantly in the eyes and turning my face away from this wide, eager, sky-transparent look that makes him at least thirty years younger and always manages to melt my heart. I knew I was being irrational, of course. Poor [OC] had nothing to do with her mother's behaviour to me, and I was sure that in spite of her beauty, Jim's feelings towards her were leaning more to the paternal side. And yet, I couldn't help the vicious bite of jealousy in the still bleeding depths of my wounded heart, which made me react unreasonably and suspect everyone and everything of conspiring against me - of plotting to take Jim away from me or turn him against me once more, after everything our tumultuous relationship had gone through.

This is all overwrought; it doesn't sound at all like an adult man living in 20th-century America. Many of the lines taken alone are okay, but put them all together, and it adds up to purple.

wide, eager, sky-transparent look that makes him at least thirty years younger and always manages to melt my heart

Although the entire first sentence is overdone, this section stood out:

- According to this, Jim has a "wide, eager" look -- eager I'll buy, but how can a look be wide? This should be wide-eyed. It's a minor quibble in my overall take on this writing, but it's evidence that she let herself get caught up in the images she was reaching for, rather than thinking about how she was communicating them.

- What does "sky-transparent" mean? If it's an alternative to "clear blue", it misses: "clear blue sky" doesn't mean "transparent", but rather "cloudless". Also, if you look at the entire phrase, it would be "wide, eager, clear blue look", which doesn't make a lot of sense.

- The man he's looking at and describing is roughly 40 years old, give or take about five years -- about a decade older than he is. He's melting because this other man looks roughly 10 years old here. I don't know many 40-year-old men who can successfully pull off looking childlike just by going wide-eyed.

- This is a gen story. Having a man thinking "always manages to melt my heart" when he meets another man's gaze is over the top, to say the least. It would be OTT even in a slash story, but at least there she would be able to pass it off as the inherent overwroughtness of the "gazing" stage of a relationship, when everything is dreamy sighs and sparkle.

the vicious bite of jealousy

Not especially purple on its own, but combined with the rest of the sentence, this is thoroughly overdone.

in the still bleeding depths of my wounded heart

This, in particular, sounds like something a thirteen-year-old girl would declaim dramatically as she threw herself across her bed, sobbing at the injustice of the world. Canon Blair would use a phrase like that only if he were deliberately being melodramatic (about, say, losing out on Jags tickets).

And yet that paragraph is barely purple at all, compared with the one that follows it:

What's more, although I knew (or, in the worst case, preferred to believe) that [OC] had in no way been involved in my breaking up with [OC], there was something about this girl that had always bothered me slightly - something unsettling, vague but unmistakably wrong, surrounding her like an opaque veil of smoke or a dense sheet of fog and setting my interior alarm off at the simple mention of her name. It felt almost as if I could touch the thickness of her dark aura, the blackness covering her like a menacing pair of wings that apparently, I was the only one able to see. Jim seemed blissfully unaware of this obscure facet of her personality, which, naturally, didn't fail to baffle me. You'd expect that a man able to discern the slightest change of colour on people's faces and catch their subtlest psychological reactions just like he can smell the invisible grains of dust hanging in the atmosphere wouldn't let such an obvious oddity - obvious to me, at least - escape him so easily.

Again, this entire paragraph is just too overwrought, and doesn't sound like Blair.

an opaque veil of smoke or a dense sheet of fog

Blair admittedly has a good vocabulary, and isn't afraid to use it. But somehow, I doubt that he, or anyone, would think something like "an opaque veil of smoke or a dense sheet of fog" when thinking about another person.

the thickness of her dark aura, the blackness covering her like a menacing pair of wings

More of the same.

which, naturally, didn't fail to baffle me

Why not just say "which, naturally, baffled me" or, better yet, "which baffled me"? Going for the double negative here is overly affected.

Although he was of German origin, his long, straight hair was raven black, just like his eyes, whose rather short, but thick and spiky lashes made them look like sea anemones, and his cheekbones unusually high and pronounced; if it weren't for the extreme, almost transparent whiteness of his skin - the only thing on him betraying his Northern European heritage - you could easily take him for a Native American.

Classic purple; every descriptor has an intensifier, to make sure that everyone understands how different and special the character is. Instead of dark hair and eyes, and pale skin, he has to have "raven black" hair, equally raven-black eyes "like sea anemones", "unusually high and pronounced" cheekbones, and skin of "almost transparent whiteness".

She could get the same general image much more simply with something like "Although he was German[ic], his dark hair and eyes, along with unusually high cheekbones, made him look almost Native American. Only his pale skin betrayed his northern European heritage." This also has the advantage of getting rid of the sea anemone simile, which to me implied a squashiness to his eyes and lashes that was very unpleasant.

In a way, despite being technically more purple than the first example, and a weaker display of writing skills, this is less tiring to read. The very OTT-ness of it makes it easier to skim the descriptions, rather than trying to hold onto them. But that also means that I'm not as engaged in the story. By the time I hit the sea anenomes, I'd had enough.


Mediocre (at best): Lord of the Rings

This is still readable on purely technical merits -- the sentence structure is fine, the vocabulary is understandable and generally makes sense in context -- but the writing doesn't begin to approach the skill levels of the above stories.

While the sentences are okay, the very short paragraphs (often only one sentence) suggest that the author isn't comfortable with anything other than very simple structure. Also, like the Sentinel story above, this is written from a tight POV, Faramir's in this case, and the language doesn't seem appropriate. While Faramir has a more formal vocabulary than Blair, he's also a soldier, in this case standing on a battlefield immediately after a bloody, exhausting battle.

More importantly, the word choice is much weaker than in either of the above examples. Many of the words appear to have been chosen more randomly and with an eye to letting individual words do the work of creating an image rather than building a scene, whether the words are appropriate or not. This is an especially big problem with LotR fiction, because the original source made such skillful use of imagery throughout, and was written in a more formal voice than most fanfic writers are familiar with -- which worked not only because of the setting, but because of the omniscient POV. When a fanfic writer unfamiliar with the intricacies and precision of language goes for a more immediate POV, writing like this can be the result -- overblown imagery that trips over its own wording in its attempt to sound high-falutin'.

She also hasn't managed to maintain a consistent tone/feel. While I'm not fond of purple prose, if you're going to write purple, keep it all purple. Dropping out of it because you can't be bothered to find a word that matches the overall tone is as clunky as suddenly sticking flowery prose into a gritty story.

Pristine and pure, the figure was the only untarnished jewel among all these bone-weary, battle-accustomed souls.

This is a very overblown way of saying that Legolas was clean, unlike everyone else on the battlefield.

and pure

This is a strange word to use here. "Pure" used to refer to people means either physically pure (a virgin) or spiritually pure (without sin or fault). The first could be true, but Faramir would have no way of knowing it, having never met Legolas before. The second is doubtful, in the aftermath of a battle. Legolas was shooting and hacking away at Orcs and Men during the battle, just like everyone else. Even if Faramir felt that Legolas (whom he'd never seen before) must somehow have hacked away in a state of absolute spiritual purity, why would he be assuming that this complete stranger was entirely without fault in every aspect of his life?

the only untarnished jewel

This makes me think of Legolas dressed as he was in Lothlorien, in white and silver. On the battlefield, he'd be in well-worn brown, green, and grey cloth and leather, as usual. Not very jewel-like. If she means "untarnished" in the spiritual sense, rather than physical, it still doesn't make sense -- Faramir has never exchanged a single word with him, and all he knows is that this person was fighting on his side. How can he possibly know that he's untarnished?

all these bone-weary, battle-accustomed souls

"Bone-weary" works for me here, but "battle-accustomed" doesn't -- the rhythm is good, but it's sort of meaningless, especially right after a battle (it would work better before the fight, or well after it, to describe their general attitude). All it does here is add yet more adjectives to the mix. "Fighters" or "warriors" would work just as well. "Souls" is another overblown word; they may have souls, but at the moment, they're still walking around in flesh-and-blood packages. And given the situation, I doubt they're feeling especially soulful; they're probably more focused on their injuries and aching muscles, and the emotional aftermath of battle.

She missed the mark here on her comparison, as well. She's comparing Legolas, who is clean, with the rest of the people on the field, who are tired -- it's apples and oranges.

He was exquisite… and Faramir could feel himself, his soul irresistibly drawn towards this flawless, ethereal being. Hair spun of shimmering gold fluttered in the slight breeze, as two delicate braids framed the pale, breathtakingly beautiful face.

Faramir has not yet been introduced to Legolas at this point. People in LotR canonically fall for each other at first sight fairly often, so that's not actually a problem; my problem here is that it can't just be Faramir's heart that's drawn (which is very LotR-ish), but that it must be his very soul, as though Legolas is a literal god.

this flawless, ethereal being

Beyond the fact that there actually were ethereal beings on that battlefield -- the Dead -- and that Legolas was quite solid and earthly next to them, this sort of description for Legolas (and other elves) is so overused as to be meaningless. What made him appear flawless and ethereal?

hair spun of shimmering gold fluttered in the slight breeze

The author was trying so hard for an elevated tone that she wound up shooting herself in the foot here. This doesn't mean what she thinks it means (presumably, that Legolas's shining blond hair was fluttering in the breeze). It really means that Legolas's hair is made of metal, specifically gold, which has somehow been spun like thread, then stuck to his scalp, or possibly been formed into a cap/wig combo. It's magic gold that weighs nothing, because when braided, it can still flutter in a slight breeze.

She could have maintained her tone and gotten her imagery across with a slightly simpler "Shimmering golden hair fluttered in the slight breeze, and two delicate braids framed the pale, beautiful face." (For anything other than LotR, the "shimmering" would be too much, because that battlefield was full of dust and mud and sweat -- but it is LotR, where such a thing is possible in fine heroic tradition.)

Also, blond hair isn't enough to make someone flawless and ethereal, if this was what was supposed to support that description.

As a hand swiftly, gracefully tucked a braid behind a delectably pointed ear, Faramir was even more spellbound. Never in his life had he even envisioned that pointed ears could be so unbelievably sexy.

And here, the author clangs horribly, losing control of the mood she was trying to build.

a hand swiftly, gracefully tucked a braid behind a delectably pointed ear

Every noun in this clause is a zombie body part -- "a hand", "a braid", "a[n] ear" -- distancing the action from Legolas. It could be anyone doing this, and it's not even clear that the hand, braid, and ear belong to the same person. To make it more confusing, Legolas kept his braids tied back, so he wouldn't have to tuck one behind his ear here.

Again, this is a battlefield, and Faramir is one of the bone-weary warriors; he's not likely to be thinking things like "delectably pointed" here.

so unbelievably sexy

This completely destroys the tone the author was trying to create, of a spiritually elevated encounter that appealed to Faramir's yearning soul. "Sexy" is a modern word that doesn't belong in Middle Earth, and certainly not in reference to a "pristine and pure" "flawless, ethereal being" with "hair spun of shimmering gold" and "delectabably pointed" ears. Pretty much the only way the word choice could have been clunkier was if she'd gone for "so unbelievably hottt".

She should have used "arousing" or "enticing", if she had to focus on the sexuality of such a simple act at all. But, again, given that it's Faramir's soul that's being drawn, adding a sexual element here just seems strange. She needed to decide whether she wanted Faramir to be earthily aroused or soulfully awed by Legolas; mixing them up doesn't work.

Faramir tried to revive his brain cells as Legolas’s face broke into a breathtakingly beautiful smile.

This one-sentence paragraph is nothing but problems.

Faramir tried to revive his brain cells

Another phrase that simply doesn't belong, either in Middle Earth or this story. If Faramir is stunned by the beauty of Legolas's smile, he'll react physically. To keep the tone of the rest of this passage, the author should have used something like "Faramir caught his breath..." or even "All thought left him...".

as Legolas's face broke into

This isn't quite as jarring as the brain cells, but it still steps outside the ethereal, graceful form she's trying to create. To maintain the tone of the rest of the passage, this should be something like "as a joyous smile illuminated Legolas's face".

a breathtakingly beautiful smile

Having a character describe another character as "breathtakingly beautiful" twice within a few paragraphs is too much. Find another word or phrase, or better yet, skip it entirely.

Throughout these early paragraphs, she focused entirely on Legolas's looks, and how they stood out against the background of tired fighters (not battered, not bloody -- just tired). IMO, she should have gone with the more physical issue of energy versus weariness. Done right, it could have echoed the canonical scene where Legolas flits effortlessly along the surface of the snow on Caradhras, while the rest of the Fellowship has to slog through it. Somebody moving lithely through a battlefield of exhausted warriors and corpses, exuding a strong sense of aliveness, would draw anyone's eye and instill a sense of wonder, so she wouldn't lose any of the tone she was trying to build. She could even get in some of the description of Legolas's attractiveness, while giving it a more solid base to rest on.

Instead, this attempt at elevated, spiritual writing comes across as shallow and mostly meaningless. Faramir is being drawn to Legolas simply because he's cleaner and prettier than anything else on the field -- not very soulful, despite all the language surrounding it. And not really appropriate to the situation they're in; if all she wanted was to show how pretty Legolas was, she could have taken them off the battlefield, when Faramir wasn't exhausted and numb from the fighting, surrounded by his dead.

Placing a comforting hand over Legolas’s, [Aragorn] stared silently into Legolas’s concerned, sparkling violet eyes for a moment.

Legolas's eyes in the movies are blue to blue-grey; it's never said in the books what color they are, but the odds are they're grey. No Tolkien elf has violet eyes. Because of this color choice (presumably because the author thinks violet eyes are prettier than blue or grey eyes), the reader has to abandon her own image of Legolas, and adjust it to match the author's mental image. That means that Legolas won't feel real, because one of the main physical markers is completely wrong.

Overall, this level of writing skill isn't up to the challenge of lyricism, which is what the author was clearly hoping to achieve. Instead, she wound up with generally empty purple prose that left me wondering who the characters were supposed to be, and too uninterested to keep reading in hopes of finding out.


Incomprehensible: actor-fandom MarySue

This is down several notches from the above examples. The author appears to have written it with a nice thick thesaurus open at hand, while her dictionary propped up one corner of her desk to keep it level. I'm guessing she's read a lot, because she actually has a feel for sentence structure, but her word choices are appallingly inappropriate. In many cases, it's not even clear what she's trying to say.

Her goal appears to be not only to be as descriptive as possible, but to use as many "fancy" words as possible, regardless of whether she understands them.

My first assumption was that this was a non-native speaker just plugging in whatever synonyms she could find, but she posts regular (nonfiction) things on the message board where I found this, and her other posts seem to be standard English. Mostly it appears that she's just young, and working under the mistaken belief that if you don't understand the words, they must be better. (She gets feedback confirming this, which can't help -- her fans praise her to the skies for using words they don't understand, admiring her ability to use the language.)

In short, she writes the purplest prose I think I've ever seen. Because she is so young, though, I won't be giving out her name or the name/address of the board where she posts.

The frigid atmosphere crawled into the fingertips of her soul, grasping all infuriation and perpetually setting them free into life’s abyss.

Okay, I admit -- I have no idea what this means, but I do admire it in a "wow, how did anyone come up with that?" sort of way. Also, while it may be nonsense, it's mostly grammatical nonsense that's properly punctuated. She clearly does understand how to structure a sentence. But still.

frigid atmosphere crawled into the fingertips of her soul

Beyond the fact that souls aren't usually pictured to have hands, much less fingertips, I'm not sure what the point of this is -- it seems to be saying nothing more than that she's cold. Maybe physically, maybe emotionally, who knows.

grasping all infuriation

This is the frigid atmosphere doing the grasping; does it also have fingertips, like the soul? I'm also getting a little distubred about this character -- she has some major kind of anger thing going on, if her soul is full of "infuriation".

perpetually setting them free into life's abyss

"Infuriation", like anger, is a singular, so the "setting them" is wrong on purely grammatical grounds. In terms of the phrase itself, what is life's abyss? And how does a frigid atmosphere (or anything) perpetually set something free? "Perpetually" means "for all time", "without ceasing".

Boiled down, I think this says that because she was so cold, she didn't have the energy to be angry anymore, and somehow would never be angry again as a result. Maybe.

She pretended to be interested in my wallpaper while I searched for the only words I could think of. I knew she wasn't the person who’d be a bit cautious over the veridicality of things. I therefore sighed and spoke the only words I could say.

This isn't completely clear from the excerpt, but it was a glaring sign of an inexperienced or uncaring writer: both passages are using the same narrator, but it was third-person POV ("she" was the narrator) in the first passage, and shifted to first-person in this second passage.

I searched for the only words I could think of

Not purple per se, and clear enough, but definitely headed toward being overly affected. And inaccurate; if there's one thing this author/narrator has no problem with, it's thinking up words.

I knew she wasn’t the person who’d be a bit cautious over the veridicality of things

This stopped me in my tracks. Every word other than "veridicality" is a common one, and it's not like they're jumbled together ungrammatically -- but they still make no sense. I was completely lost when I read this the first few times. Eventually, I decided that what it probably means is "I knew she wouldn't care about how truthful I was being, as long as I told her something."

But what I came up with and what the author said have almost nothing in common, other than some shared root senses to the words. This is a prime example of someone trolling through a thesaurus and managing to come up with synonyms so wrong she throws her entire sentence out of whack.

spoke the only words I could say

Again, not really purple. But overwrought and affected anyway; this is all highly dramatic.

I got up slowly, brushing the new tears flailing from the corners of my eyes. My soul felt rather empty, yet beckoning for greatness through its colorless self. I comprehended that I was hated in the vast heavens, for committing such a infamous sin.

This is the most sincere bit of melodrama I've seen in a long time.

brushing the new tears flailing from the corners of my eyes

It isn't clear whether the tears are flailing from the corners of her eyes before she brushes them away, or whether in brushing away the flailing tears, she focuses on the corners of her eyes. In either case -- flailing tears? I have an anime character in my head now, with tears flying off her face at great speed and in all directions.

My soul felt rather empty, yet beckoning for greatness through its colorless self.

I have no words.

I comprehended that I was hated in the vast heavens,

There is nothing in the story to suggest that the gods are heaving thunderbolts at her; this "comprehension" is based on nothing.

for committing such a infamous sin.

And here, she manages to get a "fancy" word right (although she missed on the article; it should be "an"). But it's still overblown.

The spirits illuminated my soul hastily, as I awoke somewhere rather unrecognizable to my thoughtful mind. The walls were blank, stirring slightly as a door opened and closed abruptly. A slim figure stepped quietly into the room.

As near as I can tell, this means "I woke up as the door opened, and someone walked into the room" -- a perfect example of this author's determination to pad out even the simplest sentences and concepts.

The spirits illuminated my soul hastily

These spirits show up throughout the story; it's never clear what they are, or what they're doing, or why (or how) they're going around illuminating things. Why does her soul need to be illuminated, anyway? Did she turn the lights out in there when she went to bed? Also, why the haste?

as I awoke somewhere rather unrecognizable to my thoughtful mind.

Either she recognizes it, or she doesn't. I will admit, though, that it's good to see that she wants the character's mind to be capable, even full, of thought.

The walls were blank, stirring slightly as a door opened and closed abruptly.

No matter how often I look at this, it still says that the walls stirred. Either they're very thin, enough to ripple when the door slams shut (which I hope is the case), or they're a forcefield of some sort.

I could pinpoint his livid complexion; the attractive blue coloured eyes of perpetual shades, and his slovenly, gorgeous, dark brown hair.

I mentioned this sentence in the "Variety Is the Spice of Life" essay, but had to repeat it here. In its own way, it beats the first passage I quoted from this author in terms of incomprehensibility, because it's possible to see what she wanted to say -- but she managed to say the exact opposite in her attempt to sound "fancy". What she was shooting for was "I could see his pale complexion, ever-changing blue eyes, and gorgeous, tousled, dark-brown hair." But that's not remotely what she wrote.

livid complexion

"Livid" is not an attractive shade, no matter which meaning it has. It can mean either bruise-colored, or so pale as to seem bloodless or ashen -- corpse-like. It can also mean enraged, which again isn't ordinarily considered attractive in and of itself. My guess is she saw it listed as a synonym for "pale" and went with it, without bothering to check for the specific definition.

blue coloured eyes of perpetual shades

At first glance, this looks like he has blue eyes (possibly because of contacts, since they're blue coloured eyes, not just blue eyes), always covered by sunglasses. I think, though, that what she really meant was that he has changeable blue eyes (i.e., the sort of blue that picks up the colors around it, so that they can range from grey to green to any shade of blue), and that their color is slightly different every time she looks at him.

The logic chain to get to that point involved a hairpin turn and a leap at the end ("perpetual" to "eternal" to "always" to "ever" then leap to "ever-changing"), but it's the only way this makes any sense at all.

slovenly, gorgeous, dark brown hair

Again, she clearly went to the effort to check a thesaurus, without bothering to check the dictionary afterward. "Tousled" or "disheveled" here would present an endearing image; "slovenly" makes me think that he hadn't washed or combed his hair in several days.

This story is a warning sign to authors wanting to use words they don't understand because they think they'll sound fancier/smarter. Although it's never boring, that's only because the reader has to work so hard at figuring out what the base meaning is. At best, it's confusing; at worst, it's funny in a way the author definitely didn't intend. She was hoping for an emotional tear-jerker, and instead gets giggles.


Regardless of the authors' individual writing ability, not one of these four examples is helped by the choice to privilege description over substance. The purple prose weighs each of them down, making them tiring, boring, or ludicrously senseless.

Simpler, cleaner prose would have helped a lot, in every case.

~ fin ~

Feedback of any sort, from one line to detailed crit, is always welcome, at arduinna at trickster dot org.


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