The disemboweled mercenary crumpled from his saddle and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched dust with crimson droplets of escaping life fluid. Crow: You mean blood? Mike: Let's not jump to conclusions. — The Eye of ArgonMST
There are times within the life of any teller of tales in which they are faced with a situation most dire: the writing, while not lacking in such delightful virtues as a sturdy coherent plot or rich characterization, is supremely dry and uninteresting to read.
In response, the writer chooses to indulge in the writing technique known to gentlefolk as Purple Prose, wherein the writing becomes much more florid, eschewing quotidian sentences for elaborate concatenation of phrases and clauses. On occasion, such racks of ornament can be despicable, with the scintillating adjectives bewildering the reader and obscuring the subject.note Even looking words up in a dictionary doesn't always help: perpetrators of purple prose are notorious for Malapropism, especially when they trust their thesauri. In the worst case scenario, such prose will reduce readers to skim reading for fear of trudging through pages and pages of mundane description slowly and painfully.
The writing style is named after a quote by Roman poet Horace (65-8 BC, making this Older Than Feudalism), who compared writing such prose to sewing purple patches to clothing. This practice was a common means to show pretentiousness in wealth, since purple dye was an expensive rarity. "Purple Patches" is used when the writer only occasionally breaks into purple, like scintillating arrays of diamonds appearing incongruously in mire, which can make much of the text more readable but less consistent, so the reader is jolted from one style to the other. (Consistent purple prose at least lets the reader get into the swing of things.)
Several excellent examples, things of beauty and confusion, can be found on the quotes page. This trope does not cover works in a florid but not intrusive style — the sacrifice of Utility on the altar of Eloquence is an essential feature of Purple Prose. It should also be noted that Purple Prose usually pairs flamboyant vocabulary with fairly plain grammar (that can get outright primitive in extreme cases) what differentiates it from true Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness. Bear in mind that Tropes Are Tools. Some of the examples below are intentional: the Purple Prose is a stylistic choice, a comedic turn or in aid of characterisation.
Compare contrastingly with the phenomenon given the appellation of Beige Prose. Seek furthermore the silicon entries known as: Walls of Text, Sesquipedalian Loquaciousness, and Meaningless Meaningful Words. Mills and Boon Prose is a Sub Trope; furthermore, that affliction known as Said Bookism is a customary peculiarity of this mode of communication. Some communications open on the traditional Dark And Stormy Night. When narrators characterise their visual appearance via a Description In The Mirror, the resultant prose oftentimes can be purple. See also Name That Unfolds Like Lotus Blossom, for when this is applied to names.
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In-Universe example in R15: Taketo's porn writing is pretty much universally overdone.
Gustav St. Germain in Baccano speaks in purple prose.
The Trigan Empire - The writing style was very purple. Probably not since Robert E. Howard wrote that Conan the Barbarian was destined to "Tread the Jewelled thrones of the world beneath his sandalled feet" has there been more overblown verbiage in a piece of popular entertainment. Certainly, not many characters in modern comics "slake their ravening thirst" at waterholes or "feel the icy fingers of terror course down their spines"; but maybe the world of comics, and the English language, are the poorer for it.
Avengers Legends: The Korvac Saga - A foreword contributed by Ralph Macchio for the 1991 collected edition was a fairly pale shade of purple, in which writer Jim Shooter's time writing the Legion Of Super-Heroes book prior to this story is referred to as "distinguished scrivening", and every big storyline which had occurred in superhero team comics had been "mere prelude" to this one. It's actually quite effective, considering all the purple prose which is actually in this story.
"The next morning, Tatooine's sky is the venue of a fateful encounter. As blasters fire and men die, a desperate message is sent. A message that will transform the lives of those on the planet below."
— The Tantive IV is boarded. Leia's droids flee in an escape pod.
"Screaming engines rip apart the air. Like blood to a body, a gleaming transfusion of pure hope runs from ground to sky to the waiting frigate. For a moment, dead comrades and missing limbs are forgotten, as G-force slams them without touching their weightless spirits. This is triumph, hard won. The best kind."
— Rebels steal X-Wings and fly them to a frigate to take to Yavin.
What The?! - Spoofed no less than four times this parody comic from Marvel, during a battle between Man-Thang and Swamp-Thang. First, the narrator's description of the swamp included a reference to changing a cat's litter box on a hot day; second, Man-Thang chased off after a hot white-haired young woman in a tight dress before the narrator could finish; thirdly, "whoever knows overwriting burns at the touch of the Man-Thang", and finally, the narrator's incredibly long final send-off is ended by a submerging Man-Thang pulling out a "SHUT UP" sign.
Rorschach's journal in Watchmen is very flowery, especially compared with his near-Hulk Speak. This stems from it being a Stream Of Consciousness — and having poetic elements. Rorschach is nothing if not... layered.
Empowered - Lo, the Caged Demonwolf doth speak in a hue most violet! Adam Warren writes his dialogue with the aid of a thesaurus.
Cerebus - The purple prose in "Jaka's Story" and "Reads", is intentional. In "Jaka's Story"; it's meant to be written by an Oscar Wilde Captain Ersatz. The prose in "Reads" is a slightly more snarkified version of Sim's own writing; where it is not purple, it can be suffocatingly verbose.
The rabbit of my dreams! Muscles of steel, fur soft as silk, brave as a lion! I love her! I *choke* love her!
It is to great and heart-rending dismay that much amateur fiction based in the universes of other writers is plagued by this. Even otherwise good stories are brought down to the level of others with the insistence of throwing in little bits of violet verbiage ('eyes' as 'orbs', for one small example).
Especially when fanfic writers attempt a sex scene- they tend to describe every action in excruciating detail, use increasingly bizzare euphemisms for 'penis' and very often lapse into Mills and Boon Prose, even when the rest of the story is normally written, or even beige.
Some Buffy fan fiction by an otherwise excellent author who uses purple prose only in their sex scenes, referring to "pulsating manhoods", "throbbing mounds" and, oddly enough both breasts and buttocks as "firm globes." Go figure. Then again, it's also suspected that, due to the amount of purple prose found even in non-Mary Sue fan fiction, there is indeed a reason why most of these people are writing 600,000+ words of never-to-be-compensated Buffy (Star Wars/Lost/Sailor Moon/etc.) fan fiction rather than, you know, a real novel.
The Kingdom Hearts fan fiction is worse. "Vertical. Meat. Pistol." Those Lacking Spines parodies such over(ab)used description with the Overly Detailed Purple Description Mode™.
The Sentinel fan fiction is rife with descriptions of Blair's "cerulean orbs".
Final Fantasy VII fan fiction authors do the same thing with Cloud and the cerulean orbs. And if I hear about Sephiroth's flowing, molten silver tresses or blazing emerald orbs one more time. Just for fun, take a drink every time you see the word "orbs" describe eyes in a fic. You'll get blasted out of your mind in an hour, tops.
Many fan fiction writers in The Magnificent Seven create very violet prose for the dialogue of Ezra Standish. While his character did have a larger vocabulary than the rest, many writers make him sound like he swallowed a thesaurus.
Also prevalent in online roleplaying forums, particularly the sort where characters are animals. Try to find an online wolf or horse who doesn't describe his eyes as "orbs". These characters tend to be played by the same teenage girls who are writing all the erotic fanfiction. To make matters worse, some even penalize those who don't adopt this style, by claiming the author is illiterate. Some offer helpful synonym lists, including such brilliant entries as "talon" for "hoof".
My Immortal, where the author describes the details of every outfit to the "blud-collord lace" but then goes to IKEA Erotica for all the sex scenes?
In Death Note fanfiction, there are very specific words that absolutely scream "Purple Prose!" Some of the most worst examples: orbs, obsidian, chocolate (when they refer to Light and not to Mello), honey, raven (as a noun) and panda. Yes, panda. Most people should not be sure why L is a panda, but many people call him one anyway. And while some just say he has panda eyes, others outright call him a freakin' panda.
The Chihuatlan Chronicles - Chihuatlan Razortalon has "golden orbs" for eyes, and hair like "multicolored shade of brown silk." Then again, she's a Mary Sue of epic proportions.
Those who write Gossip Girl fanfiction have an odd obsession with nagging on about the characters hair color. "The blonde went and did so and so while the brunette did something else". Especially jarring since Nate is always referred to as a blonde when he is in fact a brunette. But it's just so much more poetic to call Nate and Serena "the two blondes" and Chuck and Blair "the brunettes".
Fan writers also just love to describe Nate and Serena as being like "two adorable golden retriever puppies". Failed attempts at drama abound.
The Avengers fanfiction writers never call Thor and Loki by their actual names. Always "the blond", and "the brunet". Sometimes the other characters (cough Steve Rogers cough) will get this too, but never as badly as Thor and Loki.
Loki gets targeted for a lot of purple prose regarding his eyes as well. Tom Hiddleston does in fact have very bright, intriguing eyes, but the amount of time many writers spend on describing Loki's "emerald orbs" is inordinate.
Thor and Loki (and any other Asgardian characters) also tend to get hammered with this, too. These characters often speak in very convoluted, semi-old-fashioned speech similar to ye olde medieval, but many writers make them incomprehensible. Of course, it doesn't help at all that even various comic book writers can't decide on a consistent voice, either.
The Official Fanfiction Universities note A Fanfiction University is a type of fanfiction in which the fangirls and fanboys who write poor fan fiction are rounded up to be taught better writing. play this trope vindictively. Their generally clueless badfic students sign up with a physical description of their in-universe persona, usually give it their typical Purple treatment, and the staff proceeds to give it a Literal Genie spin. This has resulted in a squirrel with leaves and fruit growing out of his fur, and one character with actual gold orbs instead of eyes.
"I think whoever dealt with our forms must be really good with magic and really, really bad with metaphors."
Another such university had a student who signed up with "creamy skin". Excruciating Body Horror ensued.
My Inner Life. The author seems to have an extremely unhealthy obsession with Link's blue eyes.
The Star Wars fanfiction Shadows of the Future spends an unhealthy amount of time on this. A long chapter is spent describing Obi-Wan's fall into the lava of Mustafar. This fall, in real time, most likely would have taken two seconds. An interesting drinking game can be played by taking a shot every time Obi-Wan asks, in his head, why Anakin hates someone.
Takamachi Nanoha Of 2814 deliberately uses Purple Prose to describe how Vita views Hayate (i.e., like a literal goddess). The author states that doing so was rather painful for him, and that he can't possibly understand how fan fiction writers can stand using this so often, reasoning that they have some sort of "anti-talent".
Far too many Harry Potter fanfics insist on using as many different adjectives as possible to describe the colour of eyes and hair. Harry's eyes are always "jade" or "emerald" rather than green. Hermione's hair is always "chestnut" rather than "brown".
That said, chestnut is a recognised hair colour that's too red for "brown" and too brown for "red". So, people with brown hair shouldn't be described as "chestnut" whereas people with genuine "chestnut" hair wouldn't be examples of this trope.
Similarly, there was an Avatar The Last Airbender fanfic where, in the space of a single chapter, Zuko's eyes were golden, amber, honey-colored, flame, and golden again. But never yellow, nope.
HHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH is essentially nothing but this, including such gems as "wrought from the silver heart of heaven's false promise" and "their hundreds of sweaty simian dongs trailing a now-fetid memory in the rape ape's watering eye". It somehow makes it even more awesome.
Star Wars fanfiction authors have a thing about changing the color of character's eyes. Obi-Wan's have went from gray (but not just gray, silver), blue ("cerulean"), gray-blue ("storm-colored"), green ("emerald"), and hazel. Xanatos, from the Jedi Apprentice series, has eyes that change from black to blue to green. Boba Fett gets this a bit too, his eyes almost always being referred to as hazel. In actuality, they're dark brown.
iCarly fanfic which is normally known for being very simple at the best of times, had a bizarre outbreak of this in anticipation of the episode iThink They Kissed. It eventually got a Deconstruction Fic: Transcending The Definitions and the trend died out after the episode aired.
A Star Wars fanfiction called A Broken Circle has this in spades. The protagonist, La'Ana Shaddem is constantly described as having "forest-green eyes", or, occasionally, "forest-green eyes with flecks of gold". Another Original Character with the ridiculous name "Clah'Diem" is described as having "gold-coin eyes". This ridiculousness reaches a peak when La'Ana and Qui-Gon are going to a dinner. A short paragraph is spent with Qui-Gon internally monologuing about how the outfit La'Ana has chosen is "beautiful in its simplicity". (La'Ana's response to this is "I think it makes me look fat".) La'Ana is also constantly described in the utmost detail (but she's not pretty at all, the author wants you to know. Not one bit.)
A novelized, humanized version of the WALLE film, titled WALLY: The Novelization, Humanized! is so heavily detailed that in some places it takes over 30 lines type just to describe how a character looks. This isn’t helped by the fact that the story contains nudity, sex, gore, and a boatload of other horrors that can only be described by a purple prose master. It makes you glad that they used robots instead in the actual film. Depending on your preferences, once you get past the vivid descriptions, it can be quite enjoyable.
Almost the entire Floreat Dudley series uses this, as well as appearing to be set about a hundred and fifty years before the Harry Potter books are set. (Which admittedly makes a nice change from twenty years after.) The general effect is if Thomas Hardy had decided to write Harry Potter fanfiction, and although the prose isn't bad in and of itself, it does feel a trifle out of place in Rowling's world.
The Elfen Lied fanfic Robo Bando uses extreme purple prose to describe how Bando brutally or as the story would said 'awesemely' kills his enemies, yet spends no time describing where the plot takes place or character interactions.
Any Invader Zim fanfiction labelled as angst and/or romance will likely be plagued by this.
Heck, half of all angst and romance fanfiction, particularly those that are labeled as both, is rife with this.
The Lion King fan Rinjapine's writing style drastically contrasts her simple art style.
In The Core, the Captain ErsatzCarl Sagan character frequently dictates purple prose into his tape recorder for the book he's writing about their adventures. He even does so when he and his tape recorder are both trapped in a cabin that's about to be blown up by a nuclear bomb 3,000 miles inside the Earth until he suddenly stops, asks the very apt question, "... What the fuck am I doing?" and starts laughing until the bomb explodes.
Doc: Look, there's a rythmic, ceremonial ritual coming up!
Marty: Of course! The "Enchantment under the Sea" dance!
My Antonía is positively rife with this.
The Secret River mostly plays this straight, but also parodies it with the letter to Lord Hawkesbury (giving us such phrases as "the pillow of compassion") and Loveday ("we must grasp the nettle, painful though it may be, or else surrender this country to treacherous savages"). The latter isn't even much purpler than most of the text, it's only comic because most of the other characters are far more succinct than the narrator.
The Eye of Argon - As you might imaginably discern from this epigraph. Such protracted occurrences, unfortunately transcribed to ink-utterances through means of a character-based codex, were no doubt influenced by the minutely less prosaic and infinitely superior Robert E. Howard. People do not find themselves in possession of eyes in The Eye of Argon; they possess "organs of sight" or "orbs". Ears are "auditory organs."
Nature's God: The Historical Illuminatus Chronicles, Vol. III by Robert Anton Wilson. The following is a quotation: note Maria had been reading a chryselephantinely overwritten book called Moll Flanders in the coach, and very definitely she thought the somber, passionate, tragicomic and picaresque story was most absorbing, and certainly presented the dark, sinister, underground side of English life in a vivacious and veridical manner that carried conviction, but she wished Mr. Defoe were not so in love with ornamentally excessive adjectives and long, stentorian, and somewhat inchoate sentences that, even by the standards of the time, seemed to twist and turn through curlicues and arabesques and wind on and on through ever-increasing clauses and sub-clauses, including abrupt changes of subject and total non sequiturs, even if he did seem to be making a unique effort to understand a woman's perspective on the world, which was all to the good, of course, and it was less monochromatically monotonous (she had to admit) than the other one he wrote with virtually nobody in it but that one ingenious mechanic on the island, living in total isolation until he found that mute but ineluctable footprint; and yet it could all be told as well and be more pleasant to read if those sentences did not get so totally out of control and sprawl all over the page so often in positive apotheosis of the lugubrious style, and then she wondered if reading so much of such labyrinthine and arabesque prose for so long in the hot carriage had affected her own mind and she were starting to think like that herself, instead of just enjoying the shade of the oak trees and resting from thought in the dense cool quiet of the mid-afternoon English summer."
If you do not want to slog through that, she's criticizing the book she's reading for its excessive use of purple prose. It's all one sentence, and at the end she finds herself thinking in flowery language too. Chryselephantinely is a Perfectly Cromulent Word — by the time he reaches it he's making fun of the trope. Most of the time his vocabulary is fairly ordinary, but the concepts and scenarios he builds expect that the Viewers Are Geniuses
Edward Bulwer-Lytton, whom we recognize for the infamous introduction to Paul Clifford, the first words of which a certain entry on the very wiki you are reading is christened in reference to, namely the one known as It Was a Dark and Stormy Night. He got his own writing contest out of this- the winner is the writer who can come up with the most painful opening sentence for a fictional novel. See it in all of its potato-triumphing, cloud-watching glory here. In all justice we must concede that 'It was a dark and stormy night' is not all that bad as an opening line - it's the rest of the paragraph that raises it above awful.
Ciaphas Cain - While the extracts from the private memoirs of Ciaphas Cain are themselves intriguing and entertaining material for the perusal of the common reader, the editor thereof, Inquisitor Amberley Vail has seen fit to intersperse his narrative with extracts from the autobiographical magnum opus of Lady General Jenit Sulla, who reports her early service under the aforesaid Commissar Cain. Her personal reminisces are inundated with meticulously detailed accounts of her devoted service to the Imperium and that of the women and men who serve under her. Vail, of course, does so with extreme trepidation (and often an apology beforehand), the prosaic nature of these passages being somewhat distanced from her own preferences.
Though we never see it, Vail implies that Cain's own official memoirs (not the unpublished, private recollections that form the bulk of the text) are also impossibly purple, and that this is apparently epidemic among Imperial Guard memoirs.
The very first Cain short story begins with a quote from his official memoirs, just before Cain describes those memoirs as "pious humbug and retrospective arse-covering":
'Like any newly-commissioned young commissar I faced my first assignment with an eagerness mixed with trepidation. I was, after all, the visible embodiment of the will of the Emperor Himself; and I could scarce suppress the tiny voice which bade me wonder if, when tested, I would truly prove worthy of the trust bestowed on me. When the test came at last, in the blood and glory of the battlefield, I had my answer; and my life changed forever.'
The InheritanceCycle is simply filled with such a profuse amount of prose with red-blue coloration. A typical example occurs on Page 27 of Brisingr:
Narration: The branch Roran had added to the fire burst asunder with a muted pop as the coals underneath heated the gnarled length of wood to the point where a small cache of water or sap that had somehow evaded the rays of the sun for untold decades exploded into steam.
Paolini would never say "Saphira flew for a day and a night" when he could instead write: "She flew nonstop until the sun had traversed the dome of the sky and extinguished itself behind the horizon and then burst forth again with a glorious conflagration of reds and yellows."
A drinking game based on Inheritance has been floating around the Internet for a while: One shot per outlandish simile, two shots per Accidental Innuendo and three for for every simple thing described in great detail. To quote "scary_viking" on Impish Idea: "It would be dangerous even with water - your electrolytes would deplete and you'd die. Might be survivable with Propel, though."
"Do not sit in silence and allow the blood that now boils in my veins to ooze through cavities of unrestrained passion and trickle down to drench me with its crimson hue!"
We can attest that is our hope that the speaker here is not referring to a urgent and pressing need for the aid of a good physician due to the untimely departure of copious amounts of circulatory fluid.
H. P. Lovecraft. Concerning the things he is writing about, this should not come as surprising. But Tropes Are Not Bad, and at least he had the decency to be genuinely good at it. Furthermore, Lovecraft often deliberately used arcane and obscure terms — such as 'eldritch' and 'shewn' instead of 'shown' — in order to add to the creepy, antiquated feel of his stories. He also liked to think of himself as an 18th century gentleman stuck in the 20th century. He deliberately invoked this trope in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, where the villain uses 17th century expressions and spelling in the 18th century, and later in the 20th century to hint at his true age.
Indeed, HPL is evidently capable of a different style - take the conversation segment in Pickman's Model, confirming this is for effect. Also, he was writing in an age of voluminous prose, and while he was elaborate,by the standards of his day he was less so - a reader of Dickens, for example, would view Lovecraft as only mildly more extreme, and often less so (compare the Call of Cthulhu to Nicholas Nickelby or Little Dorrit) and is often maligned.
Conan The Barbarian - As Lovecraft was to horror, Robert E. Howard was to fantasy (not to mention a great deal of other genres). Conan of Cimmeria always "tread the jeweled thrones of the earth beneath his sandalled feet" as opposed to "walked around". Howard's poetic prose is famous in readers of fantasy literature, and like Lovecraft, he was really good at it. Fittingly, Lovecraft and Howard were co-correspondents, and Conan himself fought an Expy or two of Lovecraft deities.
Poppy Z. Brite, at least his first couple of novels. He not only acknowledges this, but briefly ran a zine called "Purple Proze", and has since publicly called himself out on the usage of such overblown language. Done on purpose in Calcutta, Lord of Nerves, in which an Indian-American wanders through a wrecked, but somewhat functioning Calcutta overrun by zombies. (in other words, nothing's changed. Except that zombies roam the streets.) A) He wrote it as if the main character was on one of those old style travel novels, B) The narrator fuckingloves Calcutta.
E. E. “Doc” Smith's science fiction, including his Lensman series, tended to fall into this trap. Doc Smith was well aware of this, and wasn't above poking fun at himself. In Children of the Lens, one of the protagonist's cover identities was a writer of Space Opera whose prose was even purpler than Smith's own. Given that he was born in 1895, he could perhaps be excused for having a writing style which was somewhat archaic. It became rather jarring when he would, for no apparent reason, slip out of purple prose in the narration. In among phrases like "indescribably incandescent beams of literally unthinkable power," you have the narrator facetiously Handwaving the deaths of millions of people with a "what the hell?"
"Fall of the House of Usher" by Edgar Allan Poe. It took longer for him to describe it than it did for the house to actually fall down. All tongue-in-cheek, though. Poe - who had more of a sense of humor than you might expect - mocks this trope in his short story How to Write a Blackwood Article (and its followup, A Predicament):
"...Above all, study innuendo. Hint everything—assert nothing. If you feel inclined to say 'bread and butter,' do not by any means say it outright. You may say any thing and every thing approaching to 'bread and butter.' You may hint at buck-wheat cake, or you may even go so far as to insinuate oat-meal porridge, but if bread and butter be your real meaning, be cautious, my dear Miss Psyche, not on any account to say 'bread and butter'!"
Justified in the first trilogy of Kushiel's Legacy - it's written from the point of view of Phedre, who would naturally talk that way because of her upbringing. Sidonie snarks in a love letter to Imriel that she was trying to write him in the style of great love poetry, but couldn't pull it off.
Even the great Charles Dickens wasn't immue to this trope, although being paid for each installment probably didn't help in his case. Nell's death in The Old Curiosity Shop was mocked by Oscar Wilde when he stated "It would require a heart of stone not to laugh at the death of Little Nell." Others have picked up this opinion too. It even shows up in Doctor Who, when the Doctor tells Dickens that section always cracks him up.
If you take all the purple prose out of A Tale of Two Cities, the book would be about 50 pages long.
In Great Expectations, the reader is constantly told how beautiful Estella is every time she appears. We get it, Dickens — Estella is really beautiful. We heard you the first time.
For a wonderful rendition of Purple Prose to rival Eye of Argon for sheer awfulness, check out the introduction of Blood and Roses, a vampire story anthology. Anything that features the phrase "ruptures the hymen of midnight" is gonna be gold.
Tracy Hickman, one of the Dragonlance original trilogy authors, was known during the days of writing Raven Loft as "the master of purple prose" and had everything as being either "heavy" or "looming". According to the annotations in, well, Annotated Dragonlance, his editor once found the phrase "loomed heavily" and came straight to his office to strangle him.
Quoth George Orwell: "I wanted to write enormous naturalistic novels with unhappy endings, full of detailed descriptions and arresting similes, and also full of purple passages in which words were used partly for the sake of their own sound. And in fact my first completed novel, Burmese Days, which I wrote when I was thirty but projected much earlier, is rather that kind of book."
Thomas Hardy is an excellent writer, but when he does fall into this, he falls hard. Especially in the scenes he describes Eustacia in The Return of the Native
"Her presence brought memories of such things as Bourbon roses, rubies, and tropical midnight; her moods recalled lotus-eaters and the march in Athalie; her motions, the ebb and flow of the sea; her voice, the viola. In a dim light, and with a slight rearrangement of her hair, her general figure might have stood for that of either of the higher female deities. The new moon behind her head, an old helmet upon it, a diadem of accidental dewdrops round her brow, would have been adjuncts sufficient to strike the note of Artemis, Athena, or Hera respectively, with as close an approximation to the antique as that which passes muster on many respected canvases."
Stella Gibbon's book Cold Comfort Farm is a parody of writers like Thomas Hardy. In an author's note she says that especially verbose passages have been marked with one, two or three asterisks like a travel guide would mark places of interest.
Bill Bryson thought this applied to the "most exasperating" Australian historian Manning Clark:
"(Clark) is an extraordinary stylist at the best of times - a man who would never call the moon 'the moon', when he might instead call it 'the lunar orb".
E. R. Eddison and Mervyn Peake are the uncrowned kings of purple prose. The former because his faux-rennaissance style gave his endless battles, intrigues, murders, and subversions note the distressed damsel escapes before any of the male protagonists have even heard she's in trouble? WTF?. The latter because his solid wall of images and metaphors gave insights into his deeply strange characters that almost nothing else would have pulled off.
Tim Rogers. He either believes himself to be the second coming of Hunter S. Thompson, or he is gaming journalism's biggest prank. His writing is a fine tapestry of Author Filibusters couched in language like this.
The truth is a bit of both. Rogers has two "personas" which he uses both in real life and in his writing: "Games Journalist" Tim, a semi-fictionalized persona, is a narcissisticJerk Ass gaming-Otaku/hipster who writes the verbose, ranting, sardonic articles for which he has become famous/infamous among fans and proponents of New Games Journalism. "Real" Tim (known mostly to his friends and dedicated fans) shares many qualities with his fictionalized counterpart, but is (slightly) more restrained as a writer and allegedly a decent (if self-centered and/or crazy) guy.
Foucaults Pendulum had a pathological aversion to describing simple action. The other novels by Umberto Eco, and some of his essay books, are no better.
Despite the numerous aforementioned examples wherein the intensely lurid and potentially malapropism-laden pith of the amaranthine compositions which this article is devoted to cataloguing serves to facilitate the general mediocrity of the works mentioned therein, it should be noted withal that to the contrary of previous examples, a merely esoteric and extravagant expository affectation contains within it the potential to bring about a type of literary experience which would otherwise be impossible, rather than sufficing only to engender the unequivocal condemnation of the magna opera here referenced:
The quintessential counterexample to this lamentable ineptitude would indubitably be the short story Spawn, scriven by the incomparable P Schuyler Miller.
And now, the lesson learned from reading R.A. Salvatore's description of Catti-brie: no female character should ever be said to have "thick waves of rich, auburn hair". Or eyes that make men spill secrets by their very... deep... blue-ness. Hell, even the male lead had a "thick mane" of varying descriptions. After awhile he started to sound downright hairy. Makes you wonder what's with Salvatore and hair...
In his other big series, The Demon Wars, mentioned the female lead as having blond hair you could lose a hand in, it's so thick. Admittedly, that is impressively thick.
The Confusions Of Young Torless. The plot sounds interesting at first, and it isn't very long, but even the basic fact that these two young boys liked to sleep with a prostitute was stretched out for pages. And pages. And pages.
Donna Gillespie, in The Light Bearer. As wonderful a novel as it is, the (multiple) sex scenes read like a stoned poet's wet dream. In some places, it in no way even resembles sex.
David Eddings can write in Purple Prose (and, indeed, write a variety of accents dialects, and styles to spice it up), and he can do it well, but he's not above poking fun at it—the biggest example was in the third book of the Elenium, The Sapphire Rose, where a goddess brings the party to her domain to give them an emotional boost and some information. They wake up in her place, which is fantastically beautiful and contains nothing but peace, and all the animals there are gentle and beautiful. The descriptions are solid purple, and when the Goddess begins speaking to the party—mostly a bunch of straightforward, plain men ... see the quotes page for the text.
More generally, scenes that relate to fate, prophecy, or the Gods in some way tend to be purple.
He mocks it in The Belgariad and The Mallorean as well. Any time someone starts using thee and thou a lot, it's like the character's brain temporarily rewires itself into a Mimbrate resulting in them waxing lyrical about the most mundane things. It's taken to such Running Gag lengths that, at one point, even Zakath is afflicted by the "curse".
Atlanta Nights carries this to extremes. Although this is 100% intentional, as the book was intended to be atrocious. Phrases like "the stark, plain, severe starkness of the unadorned walls" can hardly be taken seriously.
The Sheik. Though it's a romance novel written in 1919, so that's kind of to be expected.
Mike McQuay's deplorable novel Pure Blood would, it seems, have us believe that it will rain flaming pâté de foie grasAfter the End:
"[The rain] bloated the sky full like a fat goose, and when it fell, it was as if some celestial knife had slit the fat goose belly and splashed the innards onto the land in monstrous conflagration."
Herman Melville was accused of this in most of the original 1851 reviews of Moby-Dick. Seventy years later, just after the world woke up from hurling itself down a path psychologically similar to the novel's captain, critics began revising their opinion slightly. However, the verisimilitude of the artistic theme does not alter the hue of the text. Justified—Ishamel, the narrator, is implied to be a former school teacher, which explains his overtly intellectual language.
Frankenstein. The damn book would have been at least half as short if someone would translate that god-awful Purple Prose into respectable English. Mary Shelley's original text was perfectly clear and readable. It was her husband Percy who convinced her that it had to be purpled up.
To be fair, Percy was a poet, not a novelist.
Flowers In The Attic seriously Corrine takes forever explaining about her family's wealth. She actually takes up three pages describing how rich her family is. They do have a long train journey but still...
Which becomes hilarious in the film adaptation where Corrine just uses two sentences to do this. But when she comes to describe the attic itself, that's where the Purple Prose comes in. And funnily enough she didn't use it in the book.
Twilight and its constant description of Edward's perfect, marble, crystalline, Adonis-like beauty, seductive, velvety-smooth voice and liquid-burning-piercing-gold-topaz eyes. Also, Bella's transformation scene in Breaking Dawn, which takes seventeen pages. Take out all the purple prose and all you have left is the occasional Beige Prose and complaining about Forks' bad weather and residents that aren't magical beings.
In Elizabeth Taylor's Angel, fictional novelist Angelica Deverell writes much purple prose, and, though reviled by critics, is hugely successful, if only for a while. Elizabeth Taylor herself, however, is much more restrained.
Lolita is a justified example: the purple prose is Humbert's, who is trying to make himself seem sympathetic. The Purple Prose is really ridiculous at times — he manages to make picking a wedgie seem elegant and gorgeous.
The Lord of the Rings is usually given a free pass for any purple hue for being a classic. Many of his unfinished/unreleased works that were later published by his son in anthologies like The History of Middle-earth suffer far more from the syndrome; some even come with footnotes for all the archaic words, and many of them are quite tedious to read. After reading some of them it starts to become rather obvious why they were not published within his lifetime.
It wasn't so much that the language prevented their publication, but the content. Tolkien wanted The Silmarillion to be the follow-up to The Hobbit, as it was the central piece of his mythology. His publisher, however, insisted that audiences wanted more on Hobbits, not the grand mythology he had created. The other factor preventing the publication of The Silmarillion was Tolkien's notorious perfectionism. He was constantly revising and completely rewriting elements of his work (The Lord of the Rings suffered from this as well, though to a lesser extent. This is also why The Unfinished Tales are just that, and why the epic verse forms of the Beren and Lúthien and Túrin Turambar stories were never completed). The only reason The Silmarillion reached enough of a completed state to turn over to the publisher was because Tolkien's death effectively prevented any further rewriting. Delays in the publishing of other later works such as the Narn are due to the time needed to edit and assemble Tolkien's notes and drafts into a workable completed text. Combined with some speculation by fans that Christopher Tolkien is deliberately exploiting his control of his father's work to strangle the release of new material, particularly Tolkien's notes on his constructed languages.
The Lord of the Rings also played around with the concept. Text written from the perspective of the Hobbits is notably simpler in vocabulary and structure than those centering around Aragorn, Gandalf, the Elves, and others, reflecting their simpler origins compared to the "grander" Elves and Men.
J.R.R. Tolkien begins The Hobbit by describing Bilbo Baggin's home and his family history. Acceptable, until you discover that the description goes on for over three pages.
Travels in Arabia Deserta - Charles M. Doughty wrote this lengthy account of his travels in the Arabian Desert in the 1880s. The first sentence is as follows:
A new voice hailed me of an old friend when, first returned from the Peninsula, I paced again in that long street of Damascus which is called Straight; and suddenly taking me wondering by the hand "Tell me (said he), since thou art here again in the peace and assurance of Ullah, and whilst we walk, as in the former years, toward the new blossoming orchards, full of the sweet spring as the garden of God, what moved thee, or how couldst thou take such journeys into the fanatic Arabia?"
Justified in that Doughty in that book was consciously modelling the rhythms and idioms of his language on those of classical Arabic. Or so we're told.
Another example that uses a style perhaps not as exaggerated as some examples of purple prose, but certainly is overdeveloped and fancy. In Chapter II, Part I, Don Quixote begins his adventure getting up early and riding Rocinante through the countryside of Montiel. Obviously, this brief description is very boring and short. So Don Quixote imagines how some wise wizard will write the beginning of his adventure
'Scarce had the rubicund Apollo spread o'er the face of the broad spacious earth the golden threads of his bright hair, scarce had the little birds of painted plumage attuned their notes to hail with dulcet and mellifluous harmony the coming of the rosy Dawn, that, deserting the soft couch of her jealous spouse, was appearing to mortals at the gates and balconies of the Manchegan horizon, when the renowned knight Don Quixote of La Mancha, quitting the lazy down, mounted his celebrated steed Rocinante and began to traverse the ancient and famous Campo de Montiel;'
The translation doesn't do justice to the sheer purpleness of the Spanish original, though.
Ron Miller's Bronwyn Book Two: Silk and Steel has gained a measure of infamy on the internet with this scan.◊
Victor Hugo. The man spends at least thirty pages describing the detailed history of every stone in the cathedral in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, not to mention the spider-and-the-fly metaphor he wants to bash into our heads. Les Misérables has even more of it.
instead of being written in plain language, it is adorned with that peculiar style of grandiloquence which is held by some lady novelists to give an antique colouring, and which we recognise at once in such phrases as these:–"the splendid regnal talents undoubtedly possessed by the Emperor Nero"–"the expiring scion of a lofty stem"–"the virtuous partner of his couch"–"ah, by Vesta!"–and "I tell thee, Roman."
Played With in Madame Bovary. Flaubert used Purple Prose to convey the characters' overly romantic hopes and dreams before describing in a much more caustic tone how they inevitably come crashing down when confronted with reality.
Alan Dean Foster's Splinter of the Mind's Eye has occasional stretches where the characters suddenly get very, very verbose. There's this part, where Leia and Luke have been captured by Imperials who are talking amongst themselves.
"I don't like this, Leia."
"You have this wonderfully evocative way about you, Luke, of reducing the most excruciatingly uncomfortable circumstances to the merely mundane."
This has some nice examples of romance novels making use of it.
In fact, it is an unwritten rule of the romance novel genre that this must be used. Some authors pull it off with aplomb. Others... don't.
This is one criticism Gor can't counter. It might have been justified by the Narrator, but speakers from various educations and countries all use the same style.
Laurell K. Hamilton slips in and out of this both before and after Jumping the Shark, particularly whenever she describes Anita's clothing or an attractive person, male or female. Sometimes the results are hilarious, such as one scene in Narcissus in Chains where she says, "I could feel his fear like a fine champagne." Take your time analyzing that one, folks.
The Comedic Hero of Scoop, the 1938 satire by Evelyn Waugh, uses the line in a country column he writes — "Feather-footed through the plashy fen passes the questing vole".
Sometimes used deliberately, and to great effect, in Jeeves and Wooster. Bertie Wooster, our narrator, loves to embellish what he's saying, which becomes hilarious when he starts shoving in theBuffy Speak. The other characters aren't averse to this trope, either:
Parting the wild roses at the entrance was beauty of which Freckles never had dreamed. Was it real or would it vanish as the other dreams? He dropped his book, and rising to his feet, went a step closer, gazing intently. This was real flesh and blood. It was in every way kin to the Limberlost, for no bird of its branches swung with easier grace than this dainty young thing rocked on the bit of morass on which she stood. A sapling beside her was not straighter or rounder than her slender form. Her soft, waving hair clung around her face from the heat, and curled over her shoulders. It was all of one piece with the gold of the sun that filtered between the branches. Her eyes were the deepest blue of the iris, her lips the reddest red of the foxfire, while her cheeks were exactly of the same satin as the wild rose petals caressing them.
When Pat Garrett decided to write "The Authentic Life Of Billy The Kid" he employed journalist Ash Upson to help him along. The unfortunate result is passages of Garrett's dry writing interspersed with terrible flowery writing from Upson, making the whole thing a rather painful read. (Some of Upson's passages are quoted in the Young Guns movie.)
Roger Zelazny often used this to great effect in his stories, switching to florid, purple prose to describe the more fantastic parts, then back to beige prose to make his characters seem more real and identifiable. He also liked to juxtapose purple and beige prose for humorous effect, much like the Sophisticated as Hell effect.
Was a hallmark of Romantic Era and Enlightenment Era literature. Not really surprising, considering that the authors and their target audiences were educated in Classical Greek and Roman literature, which could be very florid in their descriptions.
Kei Shigema's Lunar Silver Star Story: The Call of the Wind, an adaptation of the Lunar: The Silver Star game, is rife with this. As an example:
" Directly below the spacious empyrean, a silver spring of flawless clarity spread out in front of the party of four, imitating the effect of a vividly colored daguerreotype, and mirroring the heavens’ pristine sapphire and the trees’ uncounterfeitable emerald in its placid waters."
Lampshaded in an episode of Friends where Joey 'bigs' up a letter of recommendation by using the thesaurus on Chandler's laptop on every single word, leading to a description of Chandler and Monica being people with big hearts being described as them having 'full sized aortic pumps'.
At the end of the letter, he signs his name "Baby Kangaroo".
Garth Marenghi's Darkplace - Judging from the samplings at the beginning of every episode, Garth Marenghi's writing is full of this. Of course, Marenghi doesn't seem to have a very large vocabulary, leading to an awful lot of repeated words (e.g., padding out a passage by repeating "blood" over and over.) (And bits of sick). To be fair, by his own admission he is one of the few people you meet who've written more books than they've read.
The Big Bang Theory - Played hilariously straight by "Leo", Sheldon's "recovering drug-addicted cousin" (who's actually a theater minor) when he starts to described how he "was abused by a chaplain during his teens." Penny still buys it, though.
The Australian comedy show Full Frontal had a skit where a romance novelist arrived at a police station to report a theft, which she proceeds to describe in full purple prose. While the cop is trying to work out what "sylph-like" means, another police officer enters saying they've arrested a suspect, whom he describes in the exact same purple prose.
The writers of The X-Files were very fond of giving Mulder and Scully convoluted, over-worded monologues, even when the monologue was supposed to be the text of an official case report.
Deadwood - E.B. Farnum and Alma Garret spout almost nothing but purple prose. Thankfully, Al Sweringen is there to balance it out.
So do Merrick, Cy Tolliver, Calamity Jane (albeit very dark purple)...hell, the show practically runs off the stuff.
An early episode of M*A*S*H plays this for laughs, with Radar taking a correspondence course in writing and producing purple reports (done in voiceover).
Potter: Radar what is this cow flubdubbery? All this "miracle medical mortals" hooey. What are you doing to my duty log?
The characters of Californication refer to an in-universe short story as "too purple", and even spend a minute arguing on the degree of purpleness. One can only assume they're referring to this trope.
Frasier Crane, from Cheers and Frasier, often speaks in elaborate prose. His brother Niles Crane and his radio host co-worker and restaurant-reviewer Gil Chesterton also speak in a similarly long-winded and overly-indulgent manner.
Frasier: (reading) 'Though summer at the lake seems but a vapid, vacuous experience, it is a necessary tonic for my troubled youth..' Niles, how old were you when you wrote this?
Niles: Almost nine. Which explains the redundancy. 'Vapid' and 'Vacuous'
Niles: By ten, my writing had gotten considerably tighter.
Frasier: Amongst other things.
Whenever Shigesato Itoi showed up as a guest judge on Iron Chef, he was dubbed in such a way that gave him the most over-the-top Purple Prose elaboration possible on how good the food was.
In his 2001 song "This Train Don't Stop There Anymore" Elton John sings a line about Purple Prose. The song's lyrics detail John's coming to terms with getting older, and his admission that he has "put one over" on his fans because he was unable to feel the music he was giving to them.
EMF's "Unbeleivable": "The things/ You say/ Your purple prose just gives you away/ The things/ You say/ You're unbelievable.''
Symphonic metal band Bal-Sagoth is a rare musical example. A sample from "Starfire Burning Upon the Ice-Veiled Throne of Ultima Thule":
And nine stars illumine the northern heavens, a vast cosmic sigil with the silvern moon at its centre...
Blazing argent light fills the chamber, engulfing the hewn walls of elder ice,
These ancient carvings in a time-veiled tongue, (etched into the primeval ice
countless aeons ago, now bathed in diaphanous incandescence by this storm of
lucent stellar power, their mindsearing meaning at last becomes known to me...
Their cosmic secrets unfold...
The ice-throne is encased by a shimmering wall of writhing cerulean flame,
A lambent flame far colder than the frozen surface upon which it dances...
Most of their lyrics are like that. They also have a love of the Long Title.
Almost all Black Metal lyrics, and any attempts these bands make at philosophizing in the album liner notes.
This has also become very common with Technical Death Metal, particularly the more melodic acts. There's a good chance that if a band plays tech death, their lyrical approach is going to boil down to vaguely philosophical/metaphysical rambling with lots and lots of this trope.
Mariah Carey's lyrics are mostly purple prose. She heavily abuses pretty thesaurus words like "inevitably", "sublime" and "splendor". She also has a cheeky romance with the words "nice", "festive" and "bleak".
Alan Moore's spoken word album The Moon and Serpent Grand Egyptian Theatre of Marvels features lyrics that are downright baroque, describing subjects and references that are equally arcane.
The documentary Victory at Sea is drenched with this.
The public speeches of a certain set of Third Reich dignitaries (one of them being Heinrich Himmler) are uncannily purple. This contrasts both the way the Führer spoke (grandiloquent, but still in a language the common citizen could understand and relate to) and the tone of the newspapers (from dry and official, to humorous and familiar). Some speeches by Himmler sound like written by H. P. Lovecraft himself.
Innumerable character descriptions on Furcadia. Use this generator to see some good examples of the type of descriptions many players endow their furries with, and try not to let out the contents of your stomach: "You see refractive colorless orbs flash with innocence 'neath cilia of ivory. The lamia rotates 'pon husky limbs... audionts alert and oculars a-ripple... fervid canvas of ruby tinge shimmers o'er her hale frame." note Probably it means something like: "You see her innocent eyes flash beneath their lashes. The beast-woman turns on muscled legs ... ears alert and gaze mobile, her red hair shimmering on her healthy body."
This is perhaps a rather desperate attempt to avoid the Beige Prose sexual descriptors that clog up most sex scenes. No happy medium exists, apparently. Many writers avoid sex scenes or truncate them for this very reason: they end up being dull, silly, or dull and silly.
World of Warcraft - Install the FlagRSP or MyRolePlay addon, login to any role-playing server, and look at player character descriptions. A lot of them fall into either short and badly written without a single word spelled right, or a Purple Prose laden opus about luscious bosoms, voluptuous curves and delicate eyelashes, especially if you happened to look for players in areas frequented by Mary Sues, such as Goldshire, Stormwind's Cathedral Square, or Silvermoon.
There're at least two blogs here and here devoted to poking fun at such descriptions. However, "almost◊" is the key word there.
It is possible to write a multi-paragraphed description of a character without being overly-purple - simply being detailed, considering the unfortunate limitations in the game engine for significant character customization (such as scars, detailed equipment/supplies, or any customization of pets/mounts). It's simply not common to see.
City of Heroes has free-text character descriptions built in. They fall into either short and badly written without a single word spelled right, or a Purple Prose about luscious bosoms, voluptuous curves and delicate eyelashes — same as RPG servers in World of Warcraft
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Everything Luke Atmey says. Ever. To the point that Phoenix has to translate his overly-dramatic, verbose ramblings to poor Maya, who's invariably left in the dark.
Redd White too:
Redd White: Allow me to furnish you with the title of my personage.
Final Fantasy XII has a generally straightforward, albeit poetic script. But the Bestiary entries are horribly, horribly guilty of this, especially the 100% Completion alternate texts that delve into Ivalician culture and history. The help box when going against the magic pot turns its basic claims "Gimme Elixir" into hammy Shakespearean dialogue:
The Magic Pot Clamors for an Elixir! The Magic Pot is Outraged!
Final Fantasy X - Maechen's long-winded lectures on the history of Spira were met with similar complaints by some fans.
Final Fantasy X-2 - If you wanted 100% Completion in you had to listen to every single word of Maechen's long-winded and rather purple lectures, without pressing anything on your controller to advance the dialogue on-screen, even during the long pauses where the game prompts you to interject!
Warhammer 40000: Dawn of War - Indeed, that's the way the narrator and everyone else in the series speaks. Such speach is usual in the setting. Everyone speak in Purple except the Orks — who cannot as yet pronounce the word.
Fire Emblem Elibe - Sain speaks purple prose as his second language, especially around women. He mostly does it to show off.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon's localisation in general leaned very much in this direction, especially compared to its predecessors. While generally very entertaining, some parts and characters (like Navarre) speaking in such a way sort of feel out of place.
Golden Sun Dark Dawn for the Nintendo DS is an overly talky RPG that will take 10-minutes to present a cutscene that could have easily been reduced to a line or two without losing a single bit of relevant information. It's an enjoyable enough game otherwise.
Rocky of Lackadaisy frequently, and randomly, lapses into Purple Prose — or poetry. Rocky, however, is arguably the strangest and quirkiest of the webcomic's characters, and his launching into such monologues emphasizes that. Prime example here.
The news section of Penny Arcade is often full of purple prose about Tycho's current thoughts on gaming, mainly in the form of very convoluted metaphors. He sometimes depends on readers being quite literate. Sometimes he does give out some helpful links explaining what he's talking about.
Vaarsuvius in The Order of the Stick talks like this to the bereavement of his/her companions whenever he/she feels strongly about anything.
Pirouette conveys most of the conversations through this.
Vatsy And Bruno - The unscrupulous journalist Vatsy resorts to this. One paragraph from the rejection letter that serves as an introduction reads:
We do not regret to inform you that this submission is unusable, unintelligent and frequently illegible. We do not regret that your mental seepage, poured in such an ungainly fashion on your half-cent-per-thousand-sheet paper, will not be gracing this or any future publication of the Writer's Guild World Newsletter. We do not regret that you will most probably die alone, penniless, unloved and foul-smelling.
Promise not to Tell - The lead character is so full of it, his eyes are varying degrees of purple. Literally. Note that this is just one part of a chapter of an entire book devoted to this style. Her original writing was not as intense, but through revisions and alterations it became the purple-people-eating monster it is today.
Here's an excerpt reads like a mixture of ADD and synesthaesia: "Her face had the fragrance of a gibbous moon. The scent of fresh snow. Her eyes were dark birds in fresh snow. They were the birds' shadows, they were mirrors; they were the legends on old charts. They were antique armor and the tears of dragons. Her brows were a raptor's sharp, anxious wings. They were a pair of scythes. Her ears were a puzzle carved in ivory. Her teeth were her only bracelet; she carried them within the red velvet purse of her lips. Her tongue was amber. Her tongue was a ferret, an anemone, a fox caught in the teeth of a tiger." This wonderfully purple excerpt of Silk and Steel goes on like that for two pages. Someone illustrated her; the page image is part of this.
Virtually everything written on Songun Blog (with a touch of Engrish thrown in for good measure). It's a wonder the author was able to keep it up for so long.
A small gag on Hey Arnold! when Rhonda writes Curly a fake love letter (with the elegant prose she usually speaks in cranked up to eleven) ...using a purple pen. And it's the colour of her pen that becomes her ultimate downfall.
Stewie from Family Guy used to talk like this. Lampshaded in one time travel episode.
Doc Venture in The Venture Brothers does this in an episode where he's trying to find a lost wreck using an underwater robot. He's narrating into a tape recorder everything that happens, making everything as grandiose as possible, including rewinding the tape and recording over something that he felt wasn't elaborate enough. Almost all of his lines from the episode are purple prose.
Phantom Limb is also somewhat fond of this — so much so that Baron Ünderbheit suggests they rename their new villain's union The Purple Prose.
This doubles as a Stealth Pun, as they were also professional villains who wore purple.