Let’s face it — choosing just the right word can be a lot of fun. Most writers like to play with language, and choosing the perfect word makes you feel like a master chef selecting the perfect spice.
But words, like spices, can be overused. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up with the enemy of writing that communicates and persuades. You’ll cross over into that dread zone — “purple prose.”
So what’s purple prose?
It’s those needlessly flowery sections of writing that are so detailed they draw the reader’s attention away from what you really want to say. It’s like you slathered the creativity on a little too thick. One classic example is this opening line:
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.
You probably know that line better as the often-quoted “It was a dark and stormy night,” and it actually inspired a well-known contest for badly-written first sentences.
When your writing is this wordy, you end up confusing and boring your readers. Here’s how to lighten up those purple patches without leaving your writing bland and uninspiring.
Great writing does not equal flowery writing
Somewhere in our education, many of us had well-meaning teachers who wanted to nurture our creativity and get us to be more expressive. Unfortunately, that’s often when all kinds of purple patches started to creep up like weeds in our writing.
On the web, and more recently on mobile devices, people demand brevity. There’s even the whole “txting” language that fits words into less space. (But dnt write blog psts like ths pls.)
When you write, read over every sentence to make sure it “earns its place” in your post or article. As Michelle Russell put it last year, write with a knife. The first few times you do this, you’ll probably find yourself cutting large chunks of fluff. The more you work at it, you may find that your drafts get less “fluffy.”
Crunch up your sentences
Web and mobile readers are impatient. To cater to this fast-paced, demanding audience, you’ll want to ask yourself if you can “crunch up” your sentences into more digestible chunks.
Ask a friend or colleague to read your post aloud to you. (This can work especially well when they don’t know your topic.)
If they find themselves pausing for a breath (or even gasping for air) after reading a word or sentence, strike it out. Try to chunk the sentence down into something more manageable.
There’s nothing worse than a post that starts like this:
I’ve discovered the secret of life and exactly what we were put here on earth to do. It is a startling revelation that is guaranteed to change everything about the way we live. But first, let me tell you a little about myself . . .
Your readers want to get straight to the point. No shortcuts, no detours, no rambling.
If your revelation is as amazing as you say it is, they’ll certainly want to learn more about you — after you’ve fulfilled the promise made in your introduction.
Purple’s a great color for butterflies, sunsets, or fancy throw pillows, but not for your writing. Keeping these points in mind will not only help make your writing tighter, clearer, and more persuasive, but they’ll also hone your skills to serve a readership that demands “instant gratification” with their content.