Beige Prose: What It Is, When You Need It, and When to Avoid It

Beige prose is a type of prose that most authors use from time to time in their writing. Like many other tools in your author's toolbox, there's a time and place for it. In the case of beige prose, knowing is half the battle. 

If you don't know what this is, fear not. Read on to find out all about beige prose, including examples and guidelines for use. 

In this article, you will learn:
  1. The definition of beige prose.
  2. Beige prose examples.
  3. When to use beige prose.
  4. When to avoid using beige prose.

What is Beige Prose?

Beige prose is a writing style defined by simple words, short sentences, and minimal description. It gets to the point and doesn't use words that aren't in common usage by most people. Beige prose is concerned with getting the point across in a simple and direct manner, not dressing up the writing with flowery language. 

While this may sound positive, it is often considered bland in creative writing. It's more common to see this kind of dry prose in textbooks, news reports, and technical papers.  

Beige, Purple, and Blue Prose

Other than beige, there are two other colors commonly used to describe types of prose. These are purple prose and blue prose. 

  • Purple Prose is the term for excessively flowery language. This type of prose uses lots of adjectives, similes, and the occasional metaphor to dress up the writing. The sentence structure of purple prose is often complex, and the reader usually has to work to determine what the author is trying to say. 
  • Blue Prose refers to the use of curse words or overly sexual language. Used in moderation, cursing does have its place in some novels. While at home in erotic novels, overly sexual writing is considered too vulgar and over-the-line for your average novel. 

It's best to avoid these writing styles unless you're using them very intentionally and sparingly. 

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Examples of Beige Prose

The following examples will give you an idea of the simple word choice, lack of emotion, and clarity of beige prose. 

  • He stood up. He turned and walked toward the door. I watched him leave. It was over. I felt sad.  
  • The house was gone. It had burned down in two hours. Everything he owned had been inside.
  • She sat on the couch and looked at him. She looked angry. “How are you today?” she asked. “I am fine,” he said.
  • The two factions approached each other. After a few long moments, they engaged in battle. They fought for a long time with their weapons. Many people died. 
  • “I hate you,” she says to me. I say nothing. The air is heavy. I'm nervous. I can't think of anything to say.   

As you can see, there's very little emotion, voice, or personality in the examples above. Imagine reading an entire book written in beige prose. It would get old fast. In fact, most beige prose violates a cardinal rule of fiction writing: show, don't tell. Because of its simplicity and lack of variety, it's not ideal for heavy use in short stories or novels. However, there are times when beige prose is appropriate.

When to Use Beige Prose

Ernest Hemingway was accused by some critics of overly simplistic writing. And while it's true that his style was straightforward, he was still able to convey emotion and create compelling stories for readers. By keeping the guidelines below in mind, you can use beige prose occasionally to strengthen your writing, just as Hemingway did. 

1. During Action Sequences

Simple and direct prose is preferable for action sequences. This is one time when simpler is often better. This is because action sequences are generally fast, and short sentences that don't feature unneeded words help convey speed. 

Also, the more clear you are when writing action, the better able your readers are to follow it. The last thing you want is for the epic climax to be confusing to the reader. Crisp, clear action is the name of the game during these confrontations. 

2. To Convey Character

You may have a character that is very direct or who prides himself on only speaking when he has something to say. If this is the case, a little bit of beige prose can go a long way to conveying that character's personality to the reader—provided they are the POV character for that section. If they're not, you could convey it through dialogue with another character. 

3. To Keep the Story Moving

A little bit of beige isn't a bad thing when you're trying to keep things moving. Not every location needs an in-depth description. The reader can fill in a lot of the blanks for herself. So if something isn't essential to the plot but needs some sort of brief description, beige prose is okay. But not too much of it. Too much can make for boring reading, so it's a good idea to use it sparingly in these instances. 

When to Avoid Beige Prose

As a general rule, you'll want to avoid beige prose most of the time. However, there are certain instances where you'll want to steer way clear of it. 

1. When Conveying Emotion

If there's any time to get a little more descriptive than usual, it's when you're trying to convey emotion. When something happens that is important to the characters in the scene, you'll want to spend a little time exploring how they're impacted. And to do this, you'll want to avoid using terse sentences. You can get a little more creative to ensure the emotion of the scene is clear. 

2. In Dialogue

While I mentioned using beige prose to convey a character's personality through dialogue, this should be the only time you use it for this purpose. When characters are all talking to each other in clipped sentences, they start to sound like robots, or worse, fictional characters. To avoid crafting static or two-dimensional characters, avoid using beige prose in your dialogue unless it is required for one of your characters.

Tips for Avoiding Beige Prose

Variety helps to keep readers engaged with your prose. Whether you're writing a romance novel, a fantasy, or a piece of fanfiction, you'll want to pay attention to sentence length and construction. While the subject-verb-object sentence structure is okay to use sometimes, it's good to change it up often. Use similes and metaphors once in a while. If you find yourself overusing certain words, don't be afraid of synonyms. 

But most of all, try to develop a rhythm to your writing. Good writing tends to flow without being interrupted by long sections of bland writing or, conversely, sticky paragraphs of overly complex prose.

Beige Prose: Final Thoughts

In writing as in life, moderation is key. Beige prose is okay in certain situations, but too much can start to weigh down your story. Choose the right word for the sentence, but there's no need to stick to exclusively simplistic words or sentences. As you edit your manuscript, keep an eye out for bland passages that draw attention to themselves or interrupt the flow of the narrative. Once you know to look for beige prose, it’s much easier to fix it during your editing phase, or to eliminate it while you write!

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