Purple Prose: Have Writers Moved Past It?

As a young writer dreaming of being published I was drawn into writing erotic stories. It’s a long story which I touch base on in my Podcast interview earlier this month with Dr. Richard Wagner (Part I & Part II). Part of the story that I did not share was exactly how I felt in the beginning as I stumbled over my own two feet.

My best friend of now nearly 25 years had joined an Adult RPG that she encouraged me to join. It was set at a resort where sex and adventure was the point. It simply worked like this: Write a post introducing your character then kick back and wait for someone to reply. It took two weeks and much drama for my character Jade to be snatched up by a writer and then the fun began.

About a year ago while going through my files I came across the story that unfolded and was horrified by what I discovered–Purple Prose! I must have turned 30 shades of red at the horror that was one of my first forays into erotic writing. At some point I read a bit to a good friend in Australia during one of our weekly conversations on Skype. The laughter went from giggles to uproarious as I choked on my Dr. Pepper and swore that I hadn’t really wrote it. She of course knew better.

Friends like elephants never forget.

My point is have we as writers moved past the use of what is known as “Purple Prose”. Even the best of us trip the light fantastic down the purple prose road on occasion although we might want to deny it. After all it’s embarrassing that we might be caught by our editors not exercising the grey matter and using such phrases as; glistening green orbs, throbbing man meat, silken love glove, creamy heaving mounds…well you get the picture. *cringes in horror*

Unfairly, the erotic/romance writer has been saddled with the stereotype of the dreaded “Purple Prose”. Yes, it happens in the field most notably during the 1970’s when with the birth of the sexual revolution writers scurried for acceptable descriptives for sex scenes. Now nearly 4 decades later have we moved past it and on to an acceptance of realistic sex scenes? The answer is both yes and no.

There are writers out there who write what they believe are great sex scenes, some grew up reading the romances of the 70’s, and so the “purple” garden continues on into the next generation. Now the garden isn’t as expansive as it once was and we can be grateful for that.

One of the problems is that some writers refuse to accept critique. They never take rejection of a manuscript as a clue that there might be an issue all they see is ‘OMG! They hate me!’. I myself had a reviewer who slaughtered my first book after publication and I took the time to read the review. To me there is a rule of thumb when I write:

If you want to write erotic-romance or erotica you cannot be scared to use the words. Yes, you know the words I’m talking about. Frankly, folks a cock is a cock no matter how you paint it or how much glitter you add.  The same rule of thumb goes towards breasts, clits, vaginae, etc. Paint it as pretty as you want, but it is what it is. A balance between fantasy and realism is the key to modern erotic portrayal in my humble opinion.   

Thankfully, I’ve grown as a writer since those days I spent writing on an Adult RPG. Along the way I’ve had numerous people who made that growth possible, too damn many to count. Some never lived to witness me becoming a published author, others have moved on from my circle of acquaintances, and some are still here calling me out if I ever have the “Purple Prose” itch. For each one of those people I am eternally grateful.

So, what say you my fellow writers? Have we moved past the “Purple Prose”? Are we ready to show the next generation how it should be done?

Here’s to the world of erotic-romance and erotica moving with sure and firm steps into the 21st century.

Blessed Be! 🙂


5 comments on “Purple Prose: Have Writers Moved Past It?

  1. LOL Oh, yes! The 70’s were good for disco, and the ‘pool boy’, if you know what I mean. I have my own ‘Purple Prose’ that I frequently laugh at. I keep them close to remind me of where we’re from and where we’re going. No more! I say. No more!

    • Oh, yes the good old reliable pool-boy! *snickers* One of the erotic icons of the 70’s how could we forget.

      I’ve often thought I should frame some of my early “purple prose” and hang it near my desk as a reminder. Goddess knows if my publisher ever saw some of it they would implode creating a huge black (or should I say purple?) hole somewhere in the Mid-Western U.S. I quake to think what my editor’s reaction would be. LOL 🙂

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