Interestingly, although you will be asked to write a description, in the real world, no writer ever does.
Subscribe to our FREE email newsletter and download free character development worksheets! William Noble August 21, Some years ago the fine short story writer Raymond Carver offered recollections about learning to write from teacher and novelist John Gardner.
Nothing vague or blurred, no smoky-glass prose … He made me see that absolutely everything was important in a short story. It was of consequence where the commas and periods went.
His prose was tight and emphatic, and his phrases never dangled or were superfluous.
His craftsmanship honed his work to its essence. Sentence structure and punctuation were crucial, the proper word was essential, and what was omitted as important as what was inserted. Which brings us to adverbs and adjectives. Clearly, Carver would cast a suspicious eye on these forms of speech because many times they add little to what is already on the page.
Frequently, they are not important, and in a short story, that means they have no business there. But such cosmetic touch-up often turns out to be redundant or simply uninspiring.
He whispered to her lovingly… She zoomed around the oval speedily… He stuttered haltingly… In the last two instances, the verbs themselves provide the acting and the emotion in the sentences; the adverbs merely underscore what the verb has already described.
These are redundancies, and they do little for the prose except to give it an awkward cast. The stone sank quickly… The fire truck bell clanged loudly… How else would a stone sink but quickly? How else would a fire truck bell clang but loudly?
The key is to gauge the relationship of the adverb and the verb it modifies: Are they saying essentially the same thing? If so, there is a redundancy, and the adverb should come out—fast!
They also encourage lazy writing. Far more dramatic would be to write: He whispered words of love … my sweet, dear lover, my angel … he purred his contentment, his joy … No adverb here, and the drama is enhanced.
And who could blame these same readers for laying the book aside? Not with adjectives, though. These suffer the same general malady as adverbs—usually they are too numerous, they clutter up our writing, and they can turn a deft phrase into a ponderous mass.
The house had an empty feeling to it, the air stale with undefined kitchen odors … This is a tight, dramatic description. The dark, dreary house had an empty, suspicious feel to it, the thick air stale and sour with undefined, scary kitchen odors … Do all these adjectives add much at all?
But note the other bits of overwriting: Mark Twain had it right: Decorate that noun some more, your fragile self-confidence hears. Try negative attention, the kind that might push the reader away from the prose.
Read the words without adjectives … Now read them with the adjectives inserted. Is anything more provided by including the adjectives?
Why the adjectives, then? Adjectives are a way of lengthening your sentences and providing a more complicated word picture, and this, in turn, will intrigue the reader because there will seem to be substance in the prose.
The reader will experience more, and hence, the reader will enjoy it more. But misplaced adjectives can do as much damage as botched-up syntax. If the adjectives are there only to prettify the prose, they should be eliminated.
He slipped into the darkened alley … Not all alleys are dark, so now you know this one will be.
But suppose this had read: Reach for adjectives that give more information than can already be found in the noun—when, in fact, an adjective should be used at all.
Frankly, most adjectives are not needed. What benefits they offer are usually much less than the havoc they create.Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
~Mark Twain. Dear friends, My question queues are running dry. If you’ve ever wanted to ask the Story Nurse something, now is a great time. If you’ve written in before, write in again!
(Patreon patrons, don’t forget to use the patrons-only link to jump to the head of the line.). I’ve also added new subscription options for your friends who aren’t already following Story Hospital. Writing good dialogue means using correct verb agreement, appropriate tags and avoiding adverbs.
This will make dialogue read as naturally as possible. Marg Gilks' short stories, poetry, and articles have been appearing in newspapers, newsletters, magazines, and e-zines since She considers writing fiction, especially sf/f, the ultimate form of escapism -- in what other field can you create your own universe?
If you’re reading this, then you want to be a better writer. However, becoming a better writer is elusive, isn’t it? It’s more art than science. There are hundreds of writing rules, thousands of words to know, and millions of possible ways you could write even a simple message.
How do you. 2 thoughts on “ Don’t Use Adverbs and Adjectives to Prettify Your Prose ” [email protected] December 2, at am.
preaulyn, The sentence you presented, in my opinion, is not overloaded with adverbs or adjectives. Some writers would feel compelled to pare it down.