19 May 2010

Purple Prose

Ah, purple prose. Those ornate, over-the-top descriptions that stop the reader mid-sentence. Romance writers have, in the past, been offenders, though they are certainly not the only ones. Writing about sex does seem to bring out the worst in writers, even those who are otherwise perfectly decent wordsmiths.

The truth is that it’s difficult to write good sex scenes. Our anatomical vocabulary is somewhat limited, ranging between the clinical and the outright offensive. So it’s understandable that writers would try to vary their prose by providing more creative descriptive passages. Thus we have ‘throbbing manhood,’ ‘love cavern,’ and ‘pulsing pinnacle of desire.’ You get the idea.

All About Romance used to run the annual Purple Prose Parody Contest, which was replete with cringe-inducing howlers. One of my favorites is “The Spinster's Tutor" by Tina Engler, which spoofs Robin Schone's style. To fully appreciate the parody, you have to have read Schone. But even if you haven't, you can still appreciate phrases describing the hero's manhood as "an avenging one-eyed god" or the hero himself as an "excellent marksman...[her] maidenhead as his target."

N.B. Don't try to drink coffee and read the parodies at the same time.

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