Category Archives: adjectives

Seven Deadly Sins of Writing: #4 Purple Prose

Recently, I beta-read a piece for a friend, and I noticed many of my suggestions involved cutting words or tightening sentences. Since it’s been on my mind, I decided to dig up the following excerpt from our “Seven Deadly Sins of Writing” tip sheet. I hope this as helpful to all of you as it was to me as I assisted my friend with her story. Happy writing!

~Jessica Nelson

DEADLY SIN FOUR: PURPLE PROSE

By strict definition, “purple prose” refers to writing that is overly descriptive and/or detailed (overwritten), drawing attention to itself. However “purple prose” can also refer to poor writing habits that add nothing but fluff. Here are some things you should avoid:

UNNECESSARY WORDS. This is the easiest place to start looking for fat. Any word that doesn’t add to your story detracts from it. If a sentence reads equally well with or without a word (such as “that”), cut the extra word. Examine your prose for words like these: started to, began to, proceeded to, could, would, there was, there are, there is, there were, seemed to, tried to. Try using seotoolscentre.com to rewrite your sentences and make a better structured article for your business.

Bad: She began to walk to the store.
Good: She walked to the store.

Bad: It appeared that the suitcase was heavy.
Good: It appeared the suitcase was heavy.
Better: Marcus struggled to lift the suitcase.

Bad: Jackie would run to the bus stop each day.
Good: Jackie ran to the bus stop each day.

Bad: Jarod could hear laughter coming from the basement.
Good: Jarod heard laughter coming from the basement.
Better: Laughter erupted from the basement.

INTENSIFIERS. Very, really, totally, completely, truly and so on. Is completely empty any more empty?

Bad: The room was totally quiet.
Good: The room was quiet.

CLICHÉS. Instead of reusing phrases that you’ve heard before, find fresh ways of saying things. Common clichés, such as “happy as a pig in a poke” are fairly easy to find. However, be aware that emotions, descriptions, characters, etc. can also be cliché. If it’s been said before or used before, it’s cliché.

ADVERBS AND ADJECTIVES. Instead of using an adverb to make a weak verb stronger or an adjective to make a weak noun stronger, omit the adverb or adjective and choose a stronger verb or noun. Also resist the urge to stack adjectives. Select the one (at most two) adjectives that are the most descriptive and omit the rest.

Bad: She quickly and purposefully walked to Blaine and sharply hit his arm.
Good: She strode to Blaine and punched his arm.

Bad: Janet was tired, worn out and exhausted.
Good: Janet was exhausted.
Better: Janet forced her leg to raise, move forward, step back down. Then the other. It felt as though her legs were encased in concrete.

EUPHEMISMS. Instead of using euphemisms (attention: romance and love-scene writers!) for parts of the body, use real words. Too much fluff is just like too much dessert—it leaves us heaving.

Seven Deadly Sins of Writing: #4 Purple Prose



Recently, I beta-read a piece for a friend, and I noticed many of my suggestions involved cutting words or tightening sentences. Since it’s been on my mind, I decided to dig up the following excerpt from our “Seven Deadly Sins of Writing” tip sheet. I hope this as helpful to all of you as it was to me as I assisted my friend with her story. Happy writing!

~Jessica Nelson


DEADLY SIN FOUR: PURPLE PROSE

By strict definition, “purple prose” refers to writing that is overly descriptive and/or detailed (overwritten), drawing attention to itself. However “purple prose” can also refer to poor writing habits that add nothing but fluff. Here are some things you should avoid:

UNNECESSARY WORDS. This is the easiest place to start looking for fat. Any word that doesn’t add to your story detracts from it. If a sentence reads equally well with or without a word (such as “that”), cut the extra word. Examine your prose for words like these: started to, began to, proceeded to, could, would, there was, there are, there is, there were, seemed to, tried to.

Bad: She began to walk to the store.
Good: She walked to the store.

Bad: It appeared that the suitcase was heavy.
Good: It appeared the suitcase was heavy.
Better: Marcus struggled to lift the suitcase.

Bad: Jackie would run to the bus stop each day.
Good: Jackie ran to the bus stop each day.

Bad: Jarod could hear laughter coming from the basement.
Good: Jarod heard laughter coming from the basement.
Better: Laughter erupted from the basement.

INTENSIFIERS. Very, really, totally, completely, truly and so on. Is completely empty any more empty?

Bad: The room was totally quiet.
Good: The room was quiet.

CLICHÉS. Instead of reusing phrases that you’ve heard before, find fresh ways of saying things. Common clichés, such as “happy as a pig in a poke” are fairly easy to find. However, be aware that emotions, descriptions, characters, etc. can also be cliché. If it’s been said before or used before, it’s cliché.

ADVERBS AND ADJECTIVES. Instead of using an adverb to make a weak verb stronger or an adjective to make a weak noun stronger, omit the adverb or adjective and choose a stronger verb or noun. Also resist the urge to stack adjectives. Select the one (at most two) adjectives that are the most descriptive and omit the rest.

Bad: She quickly and purposefully walked to Blaine and sharply hit his arm.
Good: She strode to Blaine and punched his arm.

Bad: Janet was tired, worn out and exhausted.
Good: Janet was exhausted.
Better: Janet forced her leg to raise, move forward, step back down. Then the other. It felt as though her legs were encased in concrete.

EUPHEMISMS. Instead of using euphemisms (attention: romance and love-scene writers!) for parts of the body, use real words. Too much fluff is just like too much dessert—it leaves us heaving.

Editors Speak: Things that Make Our Eyes Twitch

by
The IFW Editors

A couple of weeks ago, our editors contributed to a conversation about pet peeves, which led to last week’s blog on commonly confused words. Our editors are concerned about things that happen in writing that confuse the reader or pull her/him out of the story. Following are some of the things our editors advised writers to avoid.

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What drives me crazy is head-hopping. I’ve even seen it in published books—such as one from a best-selling author. In the middle of a dramatic scene, the main character is thinking of leaving her family and moving to the city to go to school. It was well written—until the author popped into the maid’s POV to describe what the character looked like. At that point I tossed the book across the room.

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Personification. Or, maybe I should say unintentional personification, because sometimes writers can intentionally use personification for comedic relief or for effect. But when you’re just reading along and see something like, “his knee didn’t notice the tree limb” or “the clock smiled down from the mantle,” you just scratch your head.

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I hate excessive “shopping lists.” He opened the suitcase and found underwear bleached sparkling white, undershirts that matched the underwear, socks in every dark color, brand-name deodorant, a razor and a replacement blade, a yellow toothbrush, mint whitening toothpaste, and the strongest mouthwash on the market. After the first two items, the reader’s eyes glaze over—if they haven’t quit reading. Decide what’s most important and never list more than three items. And, if none of them are important, skip the details!

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Some writers fail to mention a character’s name on the first page, using “he” or “she” over and over. Perhaps they think this adds mystery or intrigue, but all it really does is prevent the reader from feeling any sort of empathy for the character.

The converse is just as distressing, such as when ten or twelve new characters are introduced by name on the first page. How on earth can we make sense of that many people, especially when we don’t know who is the main character?

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One of my pet peeves: Long, rambling sentences that go on and on and start with one subject but end up with an entirely different subject, like a vacation that gets sidetracked because the map has a crease in it, which happened frequently before the days of cell phones and GPS devices, which have changed the world as we know it–and, perhaps, changed the subject of our sentence as well.

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One concerning thing that drives me crazy is the tendency of some writers to find up to a zillion ways to overuse prepositions in a sentence throughout a story until the sanity of the reader begins to melt into an abyss of blackness. YIKES! Cut the insanity! Cut the prepositions!

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Too many adjectives. And adverbs. And ellipses. And exclamation marks. And sentences that begin with conjunctions.

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This one recently became a pet peeve of mine: using unnecessarily large (read: pretentious) adjectives. I was reading a style guide that preached “simple and direct,” but every other word was annoyingly complex or obscure. Another pet peeve is using two or three adjectives in a series—to describe a single item—but the adjectives are all synonyms.

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It annoys me when a character “gawks”: John noticed the wind rustling the leaves of the oak tree instead of Wind rustled the leaves of the oak tree. A “gawking character” exists whenever a writer places a character between a reader and the action. Another example: Angelica heard the truck round the bend and saw it come down the street. Instead, write: Tires squealed, then a pickup sped around the bend and down the street.

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My pet annoyance is errors in paragraphing, such as when a paragraph includes dialogue (without tags) from one character and action from another. Example:

“Hey, Pops! Want to see me do a cartwheel?” He sucked on his pipe. 

 “Can you also do a split?” She sneezed six times, then nodded.

This should be written:

“Hey, Pops! Want to see me do a cartwheel?” 

 He sucked on his pipe. “Can you also do a split?” 

 She sneezed six times, then nodded.

Then we know who is speaking.

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My peeve: Using “creative” dialogue tags that don’t make sense:
“It was free,” I scowled. “What more do you want?”

“Extra jelly,” she laughed.

You can’t smile, scowl or even laugh words! You can say them, scream them, and state them, amongst others. You can also say something, then smile, scowl, or laugh. But these are actions and require a sentence of their own. They are not dialogue tags!

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We have tip sheets to address most of these situations, so if there are any you want to study in more depth, let us know and we’ll be happy to send you a tutorial.

Do you have the same pet peeves as us? Are there any annoying writing habits that aren’t on our list that you think should be? Tell us your thoughts in the comments.