QueryTracker Blog

Helping Authors Find Literary Agents

Monday, May 18, 2009

Purple Prose Contest

After the earth's brilliant, illuminating orb rises from its slumber, peeking above the dark, horizontal, linear barrier at the edge of sight (at 9:00 AM tomorrow) and running for seven rotations of the blue sphere which we inhabit, the co-authors of the illustrious QueryTracker.net blog cordially invite you to lovingly submit your golden, or rather, violet literary nugget into our utterly fabulous foray into the ever-increasingly forbidden realm of purple prose in celebration of our second anniversary.  

Yes, I know that's a stinky sentence; in fact, it reeks. It would have been better as: For the next seven days, we are having a purple prose contest to celebrate QT's second anniversary.

The contest is simple. Just submit one sentence of your purplest prose in our online form. It can be a compound or complex sentence because, well, it's purple, which is hard to achieve in a simple sentence. The only stipulation is that it must include the word, "QueryTracker." Other than that, it is wide open. (Keep it tasteful, please.) 

What is Purple Prose?  

The easiest word I can think of to define purple prose is overwritten. Purple prose possesses one or all of these things: too many adjectives and adverbs, forced or ridiculous similes, alliteration and/or cliches. Basically, it's using a whole lot of words to say something. Often, purple prose is nothing but description, which at one time was the norm.  In today's internet world where you can see foreign lands from your desk, most multi-page description is unnecessary. 

The definition from Wikipedia is as follows:  
Purple prose is a term of literary criticism used to describe passages, or sometimes entire literary works, written in prose so overly extravagant, ornate, or flowery as to break the flow and draw attention to itself. Purple prose is sensually evocative beyond the requirements of its context. It also refers to writing that employs certain rhetorical effects such as exaggerated sentiment or pathos in an attempt to manipulate a reader's response.

Why is it called Purple Prose? 

Purple dye was rare and expensive during the Roman Republic. In order to appear wealthy, social climbers would sew purple patches (less expensive than a piece of purple material) onto cheaper clothing. The practice was regarded as gaudy and pretentious. 

The term purple prose comes from a quotation from the Roman poet, Horace in 18 BC. He said that flowery, overwritten text was as ostentatious and inappropriate as sewing purple patches onto garments.  

Purple Trends

Throughout history, purple has been the color of many works of literature, both great, and well, not so great. The current trend to a more minimal writing style gained popularity with Earnest Hemmingway.  

Writers from Henry James to Edgar Allan Poe to Stephanie Meyer have been criticized for their purple prose. So obviously, it's not a kill-deal.  

The difficulty is keeping straight the line between evocative, rich writing and flowery purple prose.

Some genres fall victim to crossing this line more than others. Romance has a tradition of purple shades dating back to Victorian times. Purple prose began a resurgence in romance several decades ago when the topics became steamier and because of societal dictates, writers had to find creative alternatives to naming parts of the human anatomy. Truly hilarious purple phrases and terms came out of this, and though more accurate terminology is used in today's romance, vestiges of this violet hue still creep into the genre. I'm a big romance fan, so this isn't a diss in any way.  

Examples of Purple Prose

The most familiar example of purple prose was written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton, who begins his novel, Paul Clifford (1830), with the following sentence:

"It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

Some fantastic examples of purple prose can be found in the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, in which entrants submit first sentences in the spirit of "It was a dark and stormy night" for their imaginary novels. The entries are amusing must-reads. Click here to read last year's winners.  

Rules for the QueryTracker.net Blog Purple Prose Contest

1.  Entry must be one sentence long and contain the word "QueryTracker." Compound/complex            structure okay.  
2.  Submit via the online submission form here.
3.  Submissions open at 9:00 am MST Tuesday, May 19th, and close Monday, May 25th, at 9:00 am       MST. 
3.  The purpler the better.  Make it wowy.  
4.  Finalists will be posted on this blog on Wednesday, May 27th. (This is a change from the                   proir information that all entries will be posted.  We received WAY more than expected.)
5.  Winners will be posted on Monday, June 1st. 

Remember, this entry is not an example of how you really write. It's a contest for fun.  Go nuts. 


As with all our contests during our carnival, every contest entry results in the contestant's name going into the drawing for the grand prize: a free writer's website design by Purple Squirrel Design, a $600 value! (They designed my website, by the way.)

Prizes: All entrants will be entered into the drawing for the website, but prizes for purplest entries are a query critique by literary agent, Jon Tienstra; a free premium membership to QueryTracker (a $25 value) or a copy of Plug Your Book! Online Book Marketing for Authors by Steve Weber.  

Good luck!


Mary Lindsey writes paranormal fiction for children and adults. Prior to attending University of Houston Law School, she received a B.A. in English Literature with a minor in Drama.

Mary can also be found on her website.


Unknown said...

I am really a history geek. The purple prose is much more fascinating knowing where it originated. Very cool post and what a fun contest!

Tanja said...

Did you know that Malta (the Island Republic in the Mediterranean) was famous for its purple dye, in Roman times? They made it from Murex (a type of seashell). Now you know.

Tanja Cilia

Mary Lindsey / Marissa Clarke said...

Wow, how cool, zxcvbmn! Thanks for sharing. No wonder it was so valuable.

Cellophane Queen said...

Oh, boy! I can re-use by Bulwer-Lytton entry from 2006. I liked it so much, I thought about writing a book around it. (kidding)

J.R.Poulter/J.R.McRae said...

You throw the party we get the pressies - I like it!!! :))

vickyb said...

Ooohh, a contest *and* a challenge! With great prizes. So much fun. Thank you!

Rachelle Christensen said...

I love the definitions and history you gave here and the contest sounds like a blast. There's another great contest I wanted to tell you about because I'm shamelessly trying to get lots of votes. :) I entered at
The Original Scrapbox Check it out and please vote for me, #319 for the cutest craft giveaway. Thanks a bunch!

Gedin said...

Ohh, ohh, a contest! And it involves writing to boot! :: Grabs his dog-eared thesaurus and gets right to it ::

Anonymous said...

Back when my daughter was a toddler (and prone to repeating every word I said) I decided that instead of my usual bar-room dirty words, I would substitute the word "purple." Purple came to mean anything profane, irritating, or scathingly hysterical.

after reading today's blog, all I can say is: How purple appropriate.