On Purple Prose

Purple prose is every writer's enemy. Whether you're a beginning writer or a best-selling author, if you're not careful, your prose runs the risk of being overrun by the purple tendrils of self-indulgence. So what exactly does it mean? Purple prose is prose that is flowery and ornate for no discernable reason other than calling attention to itself. The term is derived from a reference by the Roman poet Horace in his Ars Poetica. He likened this overly ornate prose to the purple patches that people sewed onto their clothes to appear richer or better than they were.

The Bulwer-Lytton fiction contest is dedicated entirely to finding the worst purple prose. Edward George Bulwer-Lytton was selected as the patron of the competition because he opened his novel Paul Clifford with the immortal words, "It was a dark and stormy night." This was the winner for 2017:

The elven city of Losstii faced towering sea cliffs and abutted rolling hills that in the summer were covered with blankets of flowers and in the winter were covered with blankets, because the elves wanted to keep the flowers warm and didn’t know much at all about gardening. 

— Kat Russo, Loveland, Colorado