Purple Prose: How to Know If Your Prose Is Purple

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You might have heard the writing advice, “Don't write purple prose.” Or perhaps you've even been told your prose is purple, but you're not quite sure what that means and if it's really a bad thing.

What is purple prose? Is it really bad? And how can you fix it in your writing?

Purple Prose

What Is Purple Prose?

Purple prose is writing that is considered too wordy, formal, or needlessly poetic, bringing attention to itself and the author rather than what the author is writing about.

Where the Term “Purple Prose” Came From

Purple prose is one of the oldest pieces  of literary advice, coming from the poet Horace just before the first century AD. He said:

Weighty openings and grand declarations often
Have one or two purple patches tacked on, that gleam
Far and wide, when Diana's grove and her altar,
The winding stream hastening through lovely fields,
Or the river Rhine, or the rainbow’s being described.
There’s no place for them here. Perhaps you know how
To draw a cypress tree: so what, if you’ve been given
Money to paint a sailor plunging from a shipwreck
In despair?

Did you catch that? In case you don't understand ancient Latin phrasings, he essentially said, “Great speeches often have one or two sections of purple prose that don't belong.”

Even better, he gave this advice with an amazing example of purple prose, speaking about a river in Gaul, a Roman goddess, and a shipwrecked sailor.

Why Readers Don't Like Purple Prose

There are several reasons readers and critics find purple prose annoying. Here are a few:

1. Purple Prose can distract from the main point of the message.

Horace, in his quote above, seems most annoyed by the fact that these “purple patches” distract the reader from the central point they are trying to express. As he says:

Perhaps you know how
To draw a cypress tree: so what, if you’ve been given
Money to paint a sailor plunging from a shipwreck
In despair?

In other words, “Maybe you are a great writer who can perfectly describe a tree in poetic detail. But why are you writing about a stupid tree when your story is about a guy drowning in the ocean?”

Make sure to use your skills to write about what matters for your story.

2. Purple prose can make your reader feel stupid.

Purple in ancient Rome was a sign of royalty and wealth—and by extension, pretentiousness. If you were wearing purple, you were putting yourself on top of the social hierarchy, and intentionally showing other people you were not only important, you were better than them.

Purple prose can come from a similar intention. You the writer are trying to make yourself look talented and important, but in so doing, you can make the reader feel stupid.

3. Purple prose offends some readers' taste.

Some readers genuinely prefer writing that is minimal and gets to the point quickly.

Ernest Hemingway once said:

If I started to write elaborately, or like someone introducing or presenting something, I found that I could cut that scrollwork or ornament out and throw it away and start with the first true simple declarative sentence I had written.

Hemingway, who is often held up as an example of a minimalist writing style (and even has an minimalist editing tool named after him), believed that purple prose distracted from the truth, and that a writer's main job was to write the truth. Never mind that Hemingway was sometimes the purplest and wordiest of writers.Hemingway App Hemingway

See? Hemingway just did ok in the Hemingway App test.

Want to see how your writing does in the Hemingway app? Copy and paste your writing into the editor here.

Is Purple Prose Really Bad?

Yes and no.

If your purple prose is emphasizing things that aren't important, or if you're writing in an overly ostentatious way just so readers will think you're a good writer (and not focusing on the story you're telling), then you might have a problem. Also, if you're writing all purple, then you might be overwhelming the reader.

At the same time, not all descriptive, “wordy” writing is bad, especially if you're committing to a specific style or if you're using it to accentuate particularly important passages.

Some of my favorite writers have been accused of purple prose, including:

And even Ernest Hemingway himself!

Is It Ever Okay To Write Purple Prose?

Yes, sometimes purple prose is perfectly appropriate.

Purple prose is sometimes used for comic effect. In A Knight's Tale, the character of Geoffrey Chaucer embodies this (and is hilarious), and it's poked fun at in episodes of Friends and Community.

Purple prose can also work in climactic moments in your story to emphasize what's happening.

If you like to write in a more poetic style, that can be fine! Just be sure to keep the focus on your story not just your writing, and be ready for criticism for the minimalist style camp.

How to Avoid Purple Prose with Hemingway App

While I prefer ProWritingAid for general writing and grammar help, the best writing software to avoid purple prose is Hemingway App. Here's how you can use it to edit your writing:

1. Click here to go to Hemingway's web app, or download the desktop app.

2. Copy and paste your writing into the editor.

3. Hemingway app will automatically test your writing for readability, highlighting any problematic sentences red. For example, it didn't like my definition of purple prose!

Hemingway App Purple Prose

Overall, though, I got Grade 6 reading level, which Hemingway App says is good. Give it a try!

How do you feel about purple prose? Let me know in the comments!

PRACTICE

Ready to practice purple prose? Here's a creative writing prompt you can use to try it out.

The classic example of purple prose is the line, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Using that line as inspiration, write for fifteen minutes entirely in purple prose. Create an elaborate detailed scene in which nothing happens. Post your work in the comments and take some time to read and give feedback to at least three other writers.

Happy writing!

Joe Bunting is an author and the leader of The Write Practice community. He is also the author of the new book Crowdsourcing Paris, a real life adventure story set in France. It was a #1 New Release on Amazon. Follow him on Instagram (@jhbunting).

Want best-seller coaching? Book Joe here.

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79 Comments

  1. Corine Hann

    I wonder what most writers find more scary… Purple prose or writer’s block? I suppose it would depend on how aware you are of the former. Thanks for the great post!

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Probably true, Corine. Thanks. 🙂

      Reply
  2. Jason Ziebart

    It was a dark and stormy night. I had just finished my second cup of outrageously expensive Starbucks Guatemala Casi Cielo that was a Christmas gift from by best friend, Tom. The vibrant, stimulating aroma hung in the air as if it were a dense fog suppressed by the thick foliage of ancient oaks. My eyes dilated as the soothing scent wafted by, enticing my senses. I was keenly aware that I could now prolong my evening with the assistance of the adrenaline-boosting beverage that still danced with my taste buds at each swallow. I gradually allowed my eyelids to droop as I pontificated the next scene in my novel. Within seconds they flashed open. My sixty-five-year-old bladder sent up a signal flare to my over-stimulated brain, and I dashed out the room hoping to reach my anticipated destination with time to spare.

    Reply
    • Karoline Kingley

      That was hilarious. The sad thing is, when I was younger, I thought descriptions such as that made someone a good writer.

      Reply
      • Jason Ziebart

        Thanks, Karoline. I think there is a time and place for elaborate description, but, more importantly, a good writer should know when to cut it.

        Reply
    • Beck Gambill

      Nice. Actually I’m partial to purple. I could just about taste the air of the Starbucks coffee shop and felt ready to join you for a conversation.

      Reply
    • Steve Stretton

      Like the aroma hanging like a dense fog. In fact like all of it, wish I could do as well. Sort of.

      Reply
    • Paul Owen

      “Danced with my taste buds” – I like it!

      Reply
  3. CDurbin

    [It was a dark and relatively placid night as Lord Westermont’s luxurious mahogany carriage, it’s wheels trimmed with gold and set with burnished silver spokes, rolled through the rusted iron gates of Riverview Park, bouncing and clattering over the
    cobblestone as it went.

    Within the swaddling warmth of the carriage’s interior, Lord Westermont himself turned in his plush velvet seat and splayed open the book he had brought with him. It was an old volume, bound in supple brown leather that still felt soft to the touch, despite its age. Its pages, crinkled and yellow as they were, still held
    together nicely, a testament to the singular expertise of the bookbinders of
    yore. With the aid of the occasional light that streamed through the carriage
    windows, thrown forth by ghostly, flickering flames in the wrought-iron lampposts
    that lined the park’s main pathway, Westermont could just make out the words
    and diagrams contained within.

    The text itself contained numerous essays on the practice of ornithology, a study to which Westermont had become quite partial to over the last several months. Ah, ornithology! How easily Westermont could wax poetic on the migration patterns of the red breasted sapsucker, or explain, quite eloquently, how the distinct curvatures and angles of the beaks of tropical birds spoke volumes about their dietary habits. How-

    A sharp jolt ripped Westermont from his florid musings, and announced their arrival at the selfsame spot to which he had requested that his driver take him. Nimbly, he donned his felt top hat, smooth and black like those so commonly worn among the gentry, thrust open the carriage door, and stepped down to the cobblestone. He turned about, drew out his walking stick, a length of polished black mahogany surmounted by a small golden eagle, and pulled on his heavy pea coat. The coat was a particular favorite of his, a fine garment of heavy black wool forged in the ethereal fires of the nether realm sewn together by none other than Donald Pendergast, the finest tailor in the city, and perhaps even the whole country.

    Westermont nodded at his driver, who was struggling, in a rather futile manner, to rein in the heaving steeds at the carriage’s front. They were magnificent beasts in their own right, having been bred for the express purpose of taking him wherever he pleased. Their legs were thick with cords of muscle, and great gouts of steam
    blasted forth from their flared nostrils, trailing ever higher into the cold
    winter-

    Westermont shook his head. He was musing again, a rather embarrassing act that he had quite the predilection for. His driver was also staring at him now, awaiting his next orders like the faithful servant he was. Indeed, the tired, flat expression on his worn countenance exuded such a nimbus of loyalty, such an eagerness to please, that Westermont reminded himself to raise the man’s salary. One pence per week would do the trick.

    “Giles,” Westermont said, “wait for me here.”

    The man grunted in assent.

    Riverview park was a roughly pentagonal plot of land strung through with winding stone pathways and dotted with bridges and copses of aspen and oak. Its base was set flush against the river’s south bank, and it was in that direction that Westermont began to walk. He set off with long, practiced strides at first, but quickened his pace when his skin registered the evening chill. The cold seeped through his many layers of sophisticated clothing, settling against him like a jacket of pure frost, the kind of cold that only-

    Musing. Again.

    Rather than take the main pathway, which wound through the center and around the perimeter of the park, and which Westermont had deemed far too well-lit for his tastes, he set off straight for the south bank, wending his way through several adjacent thickets of aspen. Spindly branches caught at his coat, slowing him considerably, and Westermont cursed. Briefly, ever so briefly, he considered turning back, but a gentleman never relinquished such pursuits as he had set his mind to, and were there any witnesses to such a concession Westermont would certainly be the subject of many a cruel joke around the hearths of the country club. No, dear, reader, he forged on. Like the blue-blooded man of high birth that he was.

    The trees themselves, the selfsame ones that snatched at his coat and tophat with their wicked branches, were bare of all foliage, and gave the appearance of long, skeletal hands reaching skyward, groping at the clouds. So were they illumined by the pale shafts of moonlight that fell to earth.

    Finally emerging from the maze of trees, Westermont found at the edge of another pathway, flanked on either side by tall lampposts. The delay would be of no consequences, he thought. Bosley would be late. Bosley, languid fellow that he was, was always late. Perhaps his poor sense of time would allow Westermont another few precious moments to peruse the text on orn-

    But no, dear reader! Lo and behold, as Westermont’s gaze fell upon his destination, who else did he see standing by the riverside but Bosley,
    his back turned, staring (no doubt rather vapidly) out across the water.

    Westermont composed himself, settled his top hat, straightened his coat, took cane in hand, and approached. Still, Bosley did not move. Perhaps he was pondering some deep facet of existence, or the picturesque manner in which the cloudy night sky framed the dark towers and rooftops of the great palaces on the north bank. No, of course he wasn’t. Bosley was a fool, his mind more often filled with thoughts of roast duck and pork sausage than matters of great import, like
    philosophy, or ornithology.

    “Bosley,” Westermont announced, rather curtly.

    Bosley started at his voice, stifled a yelp, and turned to face Westermont. “Ah, Westermont , old boy.” He removed his top hat and bowed deeply, his coat tails stirring in a slight breeze that seemed to serve no other purpose than to provide me with an opportunity to needlessly describe some particular feature of his
    outfit.

    What’s that? Shattered your immersion, did I? Well shut up. I’m the narrator. I can say things like that.

    Westermont quirked an eyebrow. He was not particularly fond of Bosley. The man was too portly by half, with a round, wrinkled face and a drooping white moustache that lent him the appearance of a talking walrus. ]

    Am I doing it right? XD I definitely took longer than fifteen minutes to right this, but it was strangely quite fun, so I couldn’t help it. If you managed to finish it, I congratulate your patience.

    Reply
    • Juliana Austen

      Chuckle! My fave was “reat gouts of steam blasted forth from their flared nostrils” – gouts it’s a great word!

      Reply
    • Jason Ziebart

      Yes, I was immersed until so rudely interrupted. I kind of like being drawn into a story with description like this. Maybe it’s because I’m more of a visual learner.

      Reply
    • Paul Owen

      That wore me out – brilliant! Your descriptions are wonderful, though. Looking forward to reading more of those in non-purple prose

      Reply
    • Justin Buck

      Excellent. Exhausting. Exquisite descriptions can either advance the plot and create a spectacular world and image…or devolve into nuance.

      Reply
    • Chinmayee Gopal

      Brilliant! Vivid and funny. Would love to read it- as Paul has already said- in non purple prose

      Reply
    • Michael Cairns

      Great stuff, utterly pointless, yet rather enjoyable! I’ll join the others in saying that I’d love to read something slightly less purple. There were some lovely descriptions and atmosphere building, and funny as well.
      thanks

      Reply
    • Eric Gonzalez

      Your prose is magnificent, yes the lack of action bored me, but I read on, just to see your prose. Bravo

      Reply
    • Emily Kai

      That was surprisingly entertaining. My eyes were on fire after reading it, but it was strangely enjoyable. The purple prose, I mean. Not my eyes being on fire.

      Reply
    • Thomas J. Benedict

      That was awesome! Purple, it may have been, but awesome. Unreal descriptions.

      Reply
    • Christopher Alden

      Deeply, engagingly purple by twice the purple needed!

      Reply
  4. Yvette Carol

    My WIP covers a rather difficult subject, that of child slavery–though speculative fiction, it’s still a painful subject–I had the first folks who talk about it refer to the first removal of children from their homes as starting ‘on a dark and stormy night’. It was my way of lightening the tone a little. The over-use of this purple prose made it just the tiniest bit tongue-in-cheek, which to my mind, lessened the ‘ouch’ factor. I think purple prose can be useful at times as long as it’s used consciously…

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Good point, Yvette. Like the Bulwer-Lytton “bad writing” contest: http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/

      Of course, hopefully, your readers (and publishers, more importantly) will know you’re joking.

      Reply
      • Frank N. Stein

        …. used consciously, and sparingly. Not so?

        Reply
  5. Juliana Austen

    Caroline stared out at the night – she glimpsed the moon – a sliver of silver before the roiling purple clouds obliterated it. It was a dark and stormy night. The footman pulled closed the heavy crimson drapes and Caroline turned her gaze to the table. The linen was white damask, the cutlery heavy silver and the wine glasses shone with the sparkle of cut crystal. An opulent centrepiece so overflowed with roses and greenery she could not see Sir Frederick who sat opposite. She sighed and picked up her wine glass and looked at the rich red of the wine, blood red, heavy and dark. She raised it too her nose and breathed in the aroma – ripe blackberries, plum, She sipped it, rolling it around in her mouth was that a hint of pepper? The finish was long and velvety. There was a draught of air and the tall, cream candles fluttered casting dancing shadows on the wall. The footmen were moving with glacial slowness around the room placing before each guest a bowl of grey, luke-warm soup. Caroline sighed.

    Reply
    • KellyDaniel

      This plays with images well. And words.

      Reply
  6. KellyDaniel

    The friends clustered around the fire; it provided the merest kiss of warmth but it would suffice; the rest of the room was bitter cold. The flames flared and flitted, unpredictable yet compelling. Occasionally, a blue wisp would bounce on a log drawing all of the half slumbering eyes momentarily before darting up into the penumbra of the chimney.

    The darkness outside bled in through the bare windows and clawed at the glow from the flames. There were half visible things in the dimness that surrounded the figures that huddled there: the sheen of the fire reflected in the wooden panelling of the walls; ancient and rusting bronzes on mottled tables, merely shadows in the dark, stood guard in the alcoves and the books, shredded by mice and age, were only visible when lit by flashes of lightening that burst into the sanctuary. It was a dark and stormy night beyond the windows but those by the fire found a brief peace.

    Reply
    • Susan Anderson

      I just don’t know if it’s purple enough, lol. I liked the imagery. It wasn’t too much for me. Sounds like a great place to be on a cold night. 🙂

      Reply
    • Juliana Austen

      Penumbra!!! I had to look that one up! It’s interesting there is a fine line between creating a great atmosphere and the ‘over the top’ purple prose.

      Reply
  7. Thomas Petri

    I only had time for five minutes today but here it is:

    It was a dark and stormy night. The trees shook in the wind and the last leaves were
    ripped from the thin skeletal fingers that were the branches of the once
    beautiful trees in front of the Emery Estate.

    This old, nay, ancient manor had been in the Emery family’s care for over a century and even further back when the family bore an older name that had been marred by the stigma of events best forgotten.

    Now the manor stood alone and dark, left to its own devices. The tall windows in the
    west drawing room seemed like maws and the windows on the upper floor, like
    droopy eyes. All of them cried out in sorrow over the odious crime that had put
    an abrupt end to this once magnificent place.

    Reply
    • Paul Owen

      Five minutes well used. Nicely done, Thomas – my brain hurts already 🙂

      Reply
      • Thomas Petri

        Ha ha. Thank you. I did try to make it as corny as possible. Glad you think it worked 🙂

        Reply
  8. Susan Anderson

    Now I know what purple prose is! I thought I was just trying too hard.

    Reply
  9. Jason Ziebart

    I use purple prose when I don’t want the kids to know what I’m saying.

    Reply
      • Jason Ziebart

        For example, if I want to reward the boys with an extra treat at a restaurant, I might ask my wife if we can order some “cocoa-infused dairy product” instead of water.

        Reply
        • Giulia Esposito

          They did this in an episode of How I Met Your Mother once. It was hysterical.

          Reply
  10. Karoline Kingley

    It was a dark and stormy night. Wind shrieked eerily around the moor, running up the dark and hill and swooping towards the valley. Timbers towered ominously in the distance, spreading out their limbs like gangly ghosts. As I paced the damp grounds, green mud-tipped grass lapped about my feet, leaving visible, tangible droplets of liquid to linger on my skin. I stared and gasped at the clean-cut blades growing all around me. The audacity of some plants! Water? Upon my feet? The very limbs with which I use to travel and explore had been tainted and marred by the mischievous green goblins protruding from the ground. I inhaled deeply, the cold midnight air chilling my lungs and removing every single ounce of fiber of warmth and remote illumination from within. Sinking to my knees I lifted up my irritated face towards the sky; a face irritated by pernicious plants, a face cold because it was dark and stormy and because it was not summer or spring and consequently that meant more than likely the temperatures were not of tropical origin. I was irritated in oh so many countless ways.

    Reply
    • Jason Ziebart

      “…a face cold because it was dark and stormy…” made me laugh.

      Reply
    • Giulia Esposito

      Oh, this was funny. That bit about the face being cold because it was dark and stormy and not summer or spring was brilliant.

      Reply
  11. Ash Ronin

    I spent a couple of semesters in this critique group at my college. In the second semester we had this girl in one of my classes that was like the messiah of purple prose. I could’ve sworn she was the offspring of a human and a thesaurus. It was painful to read her writing. When our instructor initially questioned some of her word usage, her response was, “But this is how I talk.”
    Not once did we hear her talk like that for the remainder of the semester.

    Reply
    • Giulia Esposito

      It is ever thus that many a dream of literary renown are crushed….

      Reply
  12. Beck Gambill

    Oh my, I’m terribly afraid that the majority of my writing tends toward purple prosishness. (Did I just make up a word, that must add extra points to the purpleness of my prose.) My mother always did say that I liked to hear myself talk, I imagine purple prose is a dead giveaway to such a weakness. (Just for good measure I threw in a comma splice, I know how everyone likes those (oops there’s another one)!)

    Reply
  13. Daniel Lynch

    It was a dark and stormy night, the curtains billowing from the strong wind. Rain hit the the tin roof heavily making it hard to hear. Angela was laying on her bed admiring the way her candle’s light danced on the walls. She had slept all day and had only awaken to eat dinner. Since becoming sick, she had nothing better to do than rest; at least that is what the doctor ordered. She reached over to the bedside table and picked up a yellowed book, relishing the musty smell of the old paper. She flipped through it’s pages to the page she had memorised. The page showed a black and white photograph of a handsome man in a tuxedo standing next to an early model convertible. The sight of the man made her whimper. It was a picture of her late husband when he was a famous football player. She recalled the night vividly as she was in fact the photographer of that very image. It was the night he was invoked into the football hall of fame. They had rented the sports car to make a big entrance. He looked so proud that day; he was a modest man, but that day he looked very happy for himself. He strode into the ballroom with his chest puffed out and waved at his fellow teammates cheerily. That was when we all heard the crack slice through the air. He was shot before he could accept the award that night. She closed the book and reached for a tissue.

    Reply
    • Daniel Lynch

      I guess this passage wasn’t as purple as I’d hoped 😛

      Reply
      • Giulia Esposito

        I found it hard not to make stuff happen in my practice.

        Reply
  14. Frank N. Stein

    It was a dark and stormy night. My heart sank into my boots when I lifted the corner of a curtain and peered apprehensively into a blackness darker than any night I’d seen. A mournful owls-hoot from he skeletal branches of a dead oak right next to my window persuaded me to drop the curtain, and sit back, shivering, as I wished the old armchair would hide me in it’s tattered folds.
    I lifted my eyes to the wall opposite. In the guttering candle-light one of my dubious ancestors fixed me with a stare that pierced my shivering from, fixing me to my dead grandfather’s favourite chair. Yes, the one that had ended his life in a similar, electrified, one.

    I opened my mouth to shout for help. Instead a weak croak emerged, and was swallowed in the silence of death that smothered the empty house.

    Reply
    • Giulia Esposito

      This reminded of Poe’s The Raven for some reason, until you got to the part about the electric chair. Great practice.

      Reply
      • Frank N. Stein

        Thanks. I’m a great admirer of Poe, and others, like Stephen King.

        Reply
  15. Steve Stretton

    It was a dark and stormy night. The rain poured down in great torrential sheets, the jagged lightning steaks lit up the dark, cold night sky like a great fireworks display. The wind howled and whipped up the sodden leaves. I hunkered into my all too short and threadbare raincoat, trying to avoid the dark, dank puddles lying in wait for me. I had nowhere to go for shelter and just had to keep trudging along the dimly lit street with its slippery, polished cobbles and gloomy, brooding shop fronts. The cobbles shone like mirrors under the street lamps and then disappeared into the forbidding shadows that filled the gaps between them. Too say I was wet would be a gross understatement, I was saturated and the heavy coat dragged at my weary shoulders like a great sack of wheat.

    Reply
  16. Giulia Esposito

    It was a dark and stormy night. She
    had never felt so alone. So frightened. Tears ran down her face as she scampered
    through the woods, glistening in the moonlight. Twisted tree branches lashed at
    her body as she ran, seemingly trying to ensnare her. Trap her. Hold her—for him.
    Her breath came heavy, her lungs burned for air, her legs ached for rest. But
    she could not rest. Never—ever would she go back to him. It was too chilling a
    thought. Thunder boomed overheard and her shriek filled the sky as it split
    open and poured rain down upon her. She could not see the moon now, the only
    light was the intermittent flash of lightening. The ground was growing muddy
    and sucked at her feet as she ran. Again, the thunder crashed and again, she
    screamed—but not because of the angry sound of the storm. Looming before her
    was her nightmare, the evil that haunted her life. Would she never escape it?
    Could she never be free?

    Reply
    • Juliana Austen

      Fabulous darling! The only thing missing is a heaving bosom.

      Reply
      • Giulia Esposito

        Ha! I’d have written it in if I’d thought of it 🙂

        Reply
    • Paul Owen

      Nicely done, Giulia!

      Reply
  17. Brittany Gulbrandson

    Usually I write during my 15 minute breaks at work, which means most things don’t get posted because I don’t go back and type them in. I didn’t have a chance to type this up til today, but I had way too much fun to leave it even if it could be purple-er. Here you go:

    It was a dark and stormy night. The wind-ravaged trees scraped at the
    skies angrily, shuddering anew with each fresh assault upon their bare
    branches. Most of the inhabitants of the little village were huddled in
    twos or threes around their fireplaces, watching the orange flames
    flicker and fight against the strong winds that forced their way down
    the rickety, half-crumbled chimneys with the express purpose of plunging
    them all into darkness. Fathers watched nervously, ready to spring into
    action the moment the fires showed the slightest hint of actually
    succumbing to the wind’s attack, though for the most part there was
    little they could have done to prevent it.

    There was one denizen of this little hamlet, however, who had no fire,
    no company, and no walls to help him ward off the bite of the wind or
    the threat of the oncoming gale. He took what shelter he could behind
    the biggest tombstone in the church’s old cemetery, which was in truth a
    rather meager monument (the tombstone, that is, not the cemetery,
    though it too was a small and dismal place), lacking the ornate
    carvings, the lengthy inscriptions, and – most importantly to our
    shivering man – the impressive girth of the kind of tombstone one would
    expect of a cemetery’s biggest. In truth, it was little more than an
    over-sized version of its neighbors, and while it might have adequately
    sheltered a child of eight or nine, it did little to protect the
    full-grown man now crouching determinedly behind it, rubbing his hands
    together with all the vigor he could muster.

    Reply
  18. Erin

    I wasn’t really thinking as I wrote this. But it’s fun to just write mindless stuff sometimes 😀 Sorry if the formatting is funny…

    It was a dark and stormy night, and Paul was not
    particularly fond of such nights. He
    remembered often having nightmares on nights like this when he was a
    child. He was the sort of lad who often
    dreamt about events and things that had happened to him in his real life
    between the hours that he was asleep: if
    there was a blizzard during the day, he might dream it was snowing. If he had a particularly unpleasant encounter
    with a waiter at a diner, that waiter would show up in his dreams later that
    night. But dark and stormy nights were a
    special kind of night that invited all kinds of demons and terrors into the
    playground of his unconscious musings.
    He remembered having dreams in which he was stuck in the woods on such
    dark and stormy nights, the trees’ gnarled limbs seemingly ensnaring him in
    their twisted shadows that became visible with each strike of lightning. He would run and run through these woods like
    a boy possessed or chased, even if nothing was chasing him, and he would wake
    up heaving and panting as if he had actually been running.

    Tonight those childhood memories rapped on his memory the
    way the rain was rapping on the windows, in forceful sheets, as if hell-bent on
    shattering them. Flashes of old
    nightmares illuminated his wandering mind much in the same way the lightning
    did as it cast its eerie white glow onto the old floorboards with every
    strike. Paul looked at the clock on the
    wall. 11:14 pm; he should probably be
    heading to bed by now, he supposed. He
    closed his book and headed for the stairs, and as he made the climb towards his
    bedroom, he immediately started to occupy his mind with more pleasant thoughts
    and to remember the happier things that had happened that day: his son bringing home his first “A” of the
    semester, the joke he heard at work, in hopes that these things would make an
    appearance in his dreams instead. But
    the closer he got to his room, the heavier the realization became that he
    couldn’t ward off those unpleasant dreams, no matter how hard he might try.

    Reply
    • Paul Owen

      I like it, Erin – some great word pictures

      Reply
  19. Paul Owen

    Not sure this is quite the idea, but it was fun:

    It was a dark and stormy night. Well, not exactly stormy,
    but definitely a steady rain. And it was actually early evening instead of
    night as such. It was certainly dark, though, and that’s why I was out here. We
    private investigators get to work when it gets dark. It’s not so easy to catch
    people doing things they’re not supposed to in broad daylight. Or even dusk,
    for that matter, since they’ll spot things like me and my car sitting outside
    their apartment.

    The rain helped my sneakiness, but if it rained too hard I
    might not get clear enough pictures. If one of those gully-washers like we had
    last week started up again, not only would my photos be blurry but my target
    probably wouldn’t even venture outside. Which would be too bad, since I’d been
    sitting here for a couple of hours already and I wanted to have something to
    show for it. The life of a PI could be stunningly boring at times. Maybe most
    of the time, but it did pay the bills. Most of them, actually. The cable bill
    was late again. I hoped they wouldn’t shut it off again like last year.

    Hey, something exciting at last. My target’s apartment door
    opened, and out he came with whoever-she-was. That didn’t look like business
    attire she was wearing. Well, maybe for a different sort of business. Anyway,
    the guy’s wife would like to see these photos. Her lawyer would as well, I
    supposed. That would mean more bills for her to pay, the lawyer’s and mine.
    Maybe now I could pay the cable bill. I wondered if my client paid all her
    bills on time?

    Reply
  20. Alex South

    Ha! Never knew there was a phrase for it. I think everyone gets a little too purple sometimes: just another reason why re-reading and outside feedback is important!

    Reply
  21. Arvilla N

    Thank you for giving aspiring writers such great info. I’m delighted to have found your site. I wanted to share it, so I put a link to you on my blog, Alphabet Story. I included your first paragraph. (Should I have first asked permission?)

    Reply
    • Joe Bunting

      Thanks Arvilla! Nope, you’re welcome to share as you will. Thanks so much.

      Reply
  22. Jacob

    I realise I am little late to this party, but i figured I would add my own contribution rgardless.

    Rolling billows of clouds had descended over the land. The hour
    was late, or early as the case may be, it would be far closer to dawn than it had
    been since dusk. Winds ripped across the landscape, tearing leaves from where they perched precarious to their homes, a dusting of light debris swirled and danced through the turbid air currents. The frigid night air left a frosting
    behind it, tiny crystalline icicles clung to rooves, which creaked and groaned under the winds relentless pressure.

    Lightning. flashes of light arced through the dark
    backdrop, momentarily illuminating the small, besieged town. The sporadic strikes of the vivid white flashes were the only source of light available. The thick blanket of black, smothering, liquid clouds blocking all light from the dazzling tapestry of stars as well as the moon, which was just a week from full.

    Of course the thunder followed. It would start out as a low rumble, so deep it was barely audible by human standards. It would then build, and build, and build, until it reached its deafening crescendo with an almighty crack that threatened to split the turbulent heavens in twain.

    It was a dark and stormy night.

    Reply
    • Thomas J. Benedict

      Hmmm… Feels taboo to say, but I truly enjoyed this, haha! It’s very poet. I can see how interspersing all this within a scene could really enhance a story. Great work.

      Reply
  23. solarwings

    Well, I tried… :

    It was a dark night. Since yesterday, the weather had been tempestuous and getting worse. Even though it was not currently winter, it was certainly almost as chilly. The wind whispered, seeping through cracks and holes. The pounding of rain drummed in a steady beat upon my windows. Occasionally, lightning flashed like an indecisive person trying to decide whether to leave the lights on or off, and thunder boomed like a car crashing into a wall.

    I couldn’t help but shiver, though I was clad in my warmest set of nightwear, with feet sunk into thick slippers shaped like cute little bunnies. Ah yes, now, don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I like cute bunnies or anything, but these slippers were a gift and it would be such a terrible waste if I don’t use them. Right?

    Since the weather was so absolutely and horrendously terrible, I was stuck. I am really lucky to have an understanding employer who allowed me to work from home, I guess.

    Glancing at the clock, it was still too early to head to bed. I shuffled to the kitchen to boil water and make hot chocolate. Thank the heavens for hot chocolate! Oh, and cup noodles. Mmm…food of the heavens, indeed.

    I sure hope the weather lets up soon..I am going crazy, confined at home like this.

    Reply
  24. Nissim Levy

    I never understood why It Was A Dark And Stormy Night is considered such a horrible novel opening sentence. Please explain.

    Reply
  25. Mordred

    Purple prose is when 19th century literature is too hard to read for the modern masses.
    Invisible prose is for buying at a news-stand before you get on a flight. Something to let your eyes glide across the pages without having to think too hard about the words.

    Reply
  26. Emily

    It was a dark and stormy night. Rain fell in torrents, transforming the road to thick mud. I couldn’t stand at the lattice window any longer, watching for Father. With each excruciating moment that passed, I imagined him hobbling down the road in his best black leather shoes the silver buckles sparkling in a rare ray of moonlight.

    I sat in my favorite arm chair and let my body sink into the luxurious green velvet. I looked around the parlor. ON a shelf above the hearth sat a row of carved stone owls. I examined each one, rolling them over in my hands. Something I was never allowed to do. The red stone eyes glittered like two extravagant rubies. The pewter colored stone felt cold in my palm. Mundane to the average observer each little owl cost an outrageous price. Father had insisted on it. I didn’t see why he wasted such time on foolish fancies if all they did was sit there, creepy little sentinels watching those who came and went.

    I went back to my chair. Steam rose in tiny plumes from my cup of tea. Closing my eyes, i took a long, slow sip, relishing the sweet scent of chamomile, the tangy explosion of juniper berries on my tongue. I ran my hand over my heavy, smooth satin skirts, admiring the lace trim stitched along the edges. My fingers went to my pendant, a long line of elegant diamonds around my long slender neck.

    Reply
  27. Andrej

    It was a dark and stormy night.

    De revolutionibus orbium coelestium, Copernicus’ kingdom, peak, heliocentric system, glimmering aeneous stars. No cumulonimbus around, just unblemished dark-bluish paper full of small flashing dots, lilting distance, sky is the limit. Those puny flashlights, full of mirth, aeviternally blinking just like her saccharine eyes, overshadowing even Laura’s occhi, Petrarch’s biggest inspiration. My missus, my darling, a honest person with no temptation to dissemble. Her long, auburn, fresh hair. Ah, what an aesthete she is! Her golden hands hold such allure! It seems even the unreachable sky is her demesne. Ah, her lilting occhi! Even the stars don’t dare to defy them! She is God’s pastiche, God’s lagniappe! She is so powerful that I sometimes desire to distant myself from propinquity. Sky is conflating into perfect lines of her dreamy seductive face, full of luring impish elation.

    Her half-smile is jolting my soul into Lord’s Heaven, filled with joyfulness, resplendent sovereign music, harps, horns, guitars, symphonies, arias, aubades, ballads, string quartets, operas, tingling violin-piano duets, a cappella choirs, tintinnabulation, trumpets, and so on; their virtuoso performances containing many opulent motifs, trills, ebullient dynamic, melody, improvisation, tuplets, quadruplets, sextuplets; carrying such creativity and width, all tempos – andante, lento, grave, adagio, moderato, allegro, presto, prestissimo – all musical and rhythmical changes – accelerando and ritardando poco a poco, crescendo, decrescendo, accento, affetuosso, affrettando – having velvety harmony in the bass – tonic, subdominant, dominant; dominant seventh leading to the final tonic; interesting fetching modulations and major, minor, dominant, augmented, diminished and half-diminished chords; harmonic, melodic, diatonic, chromatic, pentatonic, octatonic scales; skillfully matching all life’s commotions into a certain key.

    Oh, look! Stars are twinkling in 3/4 measure, singing in canon style, such counterpoint! Wow, those breves, semibreves, quavers and crotchets! The biggest instrument, the Moon, acting like violone, giving that bass with dulcet subsubcontra frequencies, whilst the smallest dot, beautiful clarinet, showing-off its highest and cleanest notes, easily beating alone the cleanness of Gregorian chant, being followed by viola, conflating into extraordinary minor thirds. Pipe organ’s zephyr, the golden middle, the central note of this trio, of this triad, plays the most astonishing interval, the major sixth, desperately trying to find the octave, the last end.

    O, my dulcinea, can you hear this music too, I wonder. Is this music God’s gift like it is for me, or just another superfluous thing? Think. My soul swoons into another universe. Ah, music is general all over my mind.

    Reply
    • Tori

      So odd, yet so beautiful! Some of the most beautiful (and hard to understand!) purple prose I’ve ever read! Nice job!

      Reply
  28. emery snowe

    I think ‘it was a dark and stormy night’ qualifies more as a cliche and isn’t particularly purple as a standalone sentence.

    Reply
    • Cathy

      I agree.

      Reply
  29. Ryan McAlister

    I tried.

    The trade ship Canterbury sailed across the open waters on the darkest night of the year, midseve, when the moon above shone no light and not a cloud was to be seen. The Canterbury, originally envisioned as a warship, was an older first-rate that had been repurposed to befit more peaceful times. Gone were the cannons out its countless portholes running along the starboard and opposite side, and gone was the original crew that had done the ship a service by keeping it afloat for so many years. Still though, the Canterbury’s grim demeanor remained characterized by the thing mounted on its bowsprit, a stone carved devil-creature that soared forward, sprouting bat’s wings as though it by itself was pulling the ship along absent of the sails above. As the ship’s previous title was The Devil’s Due, and its old profession was extorting lives, such a figurehead seemed fitting in striking fear into the hearts of enemies; rammings were glorious.

    If one were to press their ear against the waterlogged deck and listen closely, one could hear the clamor of the Canterbury’s old-as-time denizens going about their business door-to-door, saying their partings before they retired from yet another day of promiscuity and raucous bantering.

    At the end of one of the Canterbury’s vast and oppressive halls decked with somberly lit lanterns and black and green mold was a wooden door slightly ajar. Past this door was a quarters and inside sat the captain of the ship, a man old and depressed and a man so into his books that he wondered if he should have written one himself.

    Tonight he sat upon his captain’s chair, an old furnishing that protested the weight of anything with an audible groan. One lantern in the room, its light but a wisp, the folds on the man’s forehead cast shadows paling in comparison to the staggering specters that lingered behind. His reading hand trembled as he flipped aside a muggy page, and his other hand, sliced away in a knights’ crusade he tried too hard forget about, served time in an unmarked grave in some faraway land whose name the man tried to forget as well, Fikeland.

    He dribbled his fingers across his desk, teeth gritted, his nails yellowed and his teeth just as yellow. He tried to rub his eye with his other hand, but then he realized he didn’t have one to spare, so he settled to repurpose his ‘page-flipping hand’ to an ‘eye-rubbing’ hand, if just for a moment. He grunted, and then he realized he needed to scratch an itch on his head at the same time; Lords, how he wished for a second hand, so he used the stub where his other hand used to be instead. It did the itch enough justice to banish it from existence, but then the captain realized the pages of his book had turned themselves, and he had lost his place in the gargantuan text before him. He slumped down in his chair, sighed, and his chair sighed with him as he let both his arms dangle at his side in complete surrender. He wished he’d the nerve to dog-ear his pages, but he treated his books like people and paid them respect.

    He sat there for some time until a rapping sounded from behind his door ajar, and a face peeked through the slim breach, its person curious as to the happenings of the captain.

    Reply
  30. Walter Kersting

    It was a dork and stempy naught. Etc, etc.

    Reply
  31. Educated

    It’s not always about plot and action and character development! Ever watch Seinfeld?? Sadly there’s a lot of literate people out there who think so smugly of themselves they miss their own pathetic self-righteousness, which merely thinly conceals that know nothing about true literature! It’s like saying that you prefer a stick figure to a painting or trash reality TV to a well-scripted, intelligent show. It’s like saying that Classic Hollywood films are boring and bad because they lack fast car chases that end in explosions with people walking slowly unscathed from the explosion, and awful CGI. You, the uneducated, boring mindless hoi-polloi will forever remain classless and (again) uneducated while the few of us get it. IOW, I think you just proved you’re an idiot, Lize BOREman! And this shows your imbecilic and literate mind.

    Reply
    • Educated

      ^^^My keyboard replaced illiterate with literate!
      Typo: which merely thinly conceals that *they* know nothing

      Have at it. Knock yourselves out. While you read the only utter garbage that your kindergarten level mind comprehends, riddled with typos galore, no punctuation, awful grammar and terrible syntax, we quietly enjoy Poe and other real authors of years gone by.

      Reply
  32. Alex

    So…This made me cringe. Forgive me. This is NOT my normal prose.

    ‘Twas a dark and ever so stormy night. I, an avid hater of such disastrously frigid weather, had gathered indoors with my sleek, ebony cat, Nox.

    Nox’s eyes, green as an emerald diamond found in a long forgotten, stony mine, peered into my own brown, luscious, chocolate colored eyes from her regal position on the seat next to me.

    Her tail wriggled softly, like a long, slithering snake having some sort of terrible seizure….did snakes even have seizures? I pondered this strangely elusive and private thought as I stared, almost enamored, at my wise and all-knowing feline companion of four entire years now.

    “How big d’you reckon the floods shall be, my pet?” I curiously asked, reaching one dainty, delicate, elegantly thin hand out to pat my closest and dearest friend on top of her soft, silky, round head.

    My four-legged companion let out a rather peaceful meow that instantly seemed to bring my tried and tormented soul to peace. Her quiet, soft, and very musical meows always tended to elicit a calm feeling throughout the entirety of my body, even down to the very most microscopic cells teeming within my very body at this exact moment in time.

    My silky companion stood and offered me quite a graceful stretch, her back arching as high as the waves in the ocean rose. My one source of joy finished her much needed stretch, strode the few steps onto my petite lap, and politely made herself comfortable on top of me. She even began to purr, her quiet feline sounds reminding me of a very large and loud motorboat.

    Nevertheless, my sweet was happy, and so I relaxed into the warm and comfortable, brown, leather couch, and spent the rest of the dreadful storm staring out my clear glass window, watching the raindrops fall like tears, until finally I drifted off into an untroubled, gentle sleep, my companion remaining there, on my lap, for the remainder of the entire sordid affair.

    END

    Reply
  33. Angeline

    Hail rattles the rooftops, drumming against wind in the cacophony of a midwinter snowstorm. Everyone within the village is tucked away in the sanctuaries of their homes, safe from the icy snow piling up outside their windows and doors. I’m not that fortunate – I’m left struggling through the snow, dragging my feet through the bank of white that threatens to trap me. I think on approaching the door of one of the houses, but it’s not going to matter, is it? I’ve already screamed my throat raw begging for entrance, but the doors are locked and my voice is drowned out by the whistling of wind.

    I’m not even entirely sure if they’d be able to hear me anyway.

    Numbness has overtaken my body, blood threatens to break through my skin as the hail grazes against me. I look down at my scraped, reddened fingers that I’ve lost feeling in. My tears are frozen against my cheeks, a reminder of how I’m not supposed to cry. My eyes are begging to close, and there’s a nagging voice at the back of my mind that won’t go away no matter how much I try to push it out.

    ‘Sleep,’ the voice says. ‘Wouldn’t it be so much easier to give up now and sleep here? You’re already tired enough as is.’

    I shake my head but I’ve already been convinced. There’s not much else I can do. I’ll juts give up now.

    So I squeeze my eyes shut for the last time and pretend that there is warmth seeping into my body, cold leaching out of my skin. I’m rocked to sleep by a bed of illusions.

    [is this any good? please share your feedback!]

    Reply
  34. Fishables

    Dark and stormy was the night, as it raged and fumed and threw down to the blisteringly cursed cobblestoned paved dusky streets flames of blinding, fiery excursions of pure unadulterated anguish. Relentless was the barrage of thunderous roars, like a wounded bloodied sea devil clawing its crooked grip upon the slight citizens of the black tainted human settlement compiled of crude colourings of wood, stone and pointed teeth of jagged discoloured metal. The narrow, littered alleyways and unevenly stacked roads themselves twisted and turned their blinded ways around endless rows and rows and rows and rows and rows and yet more cruel rows of overturned, top heavy wooden shacks and houses which in turn turned their pointed grooved roofs up to the forcefully fierce flashing and tumultuously torn overcast broth of water, cloud and fire as if in a praise of atonement for their hellish servings of their capitalist consumed common-sense casted conglomerates of inhabitants and their socially inept inadequate constitution that they called “society”.

    Reply

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