Your Copy Sucks: Touching On Purple Prose

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Fountain pen, close-upPurple is the color of a cloak which your words should never wear, treading on a barren stair in the dark to meet a woman whom they know is from a city they’ve never been and should not dare make haste toward.

Or, in other words, quit the #@$%ing purple prose already.

Purple prose means writing that is way too flowery, effusive, extravagant, or showy. It’s a phrase used to describe works or passages that are out of place or just plain stupid. The poet Horace coined the phrase (sort of) and the lesson is don’t ever, ever go overboard.

“Elaborate poetry?” you may ask. “Florid diatribes? Surely these never appear in my businesslike writing of business!”

Are you sure?

One of the problems we flacks can run into is that our pitches and press releases sometimes must go through a committee before being used. Our clients, companies, or (if we believe in the product deeply enough) even ourselves can become a little blinded when crafting the message. And surely that’s natural; after working so hard on something, you start to get wrapped up in it.

The rhetoric becomes truth to you, to the committee. Press releases are going out the door stating that this product is going to be The Best Thing Ever, and if you’re not careful, it won’t be stating it so simply. You’re gonna be getting all purple about it.

The problem with purple prose is the writer of it often sits back with a huge grin on her face, having written really, really hard and feeling her job is done. But the reader can always tell. Purple prose is so ridiculous and overdone that it’s hard to ignore. In situations where I think my overly dramatic tendencies may be getting the better of my writing, I go by a very simple rule: cut out everything except the necessities. It’s a rule that fixes a lot of problems, actually, but purple bruises more than most.

So instead of spouting off on how the product is going to change the face of the planet in five years’ time, I may want to start with describing, you know, what it does. Just something to think about when you’re toning down those purple hues.

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