Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Those Pesky Adjectives and Adverbs

“Do not over-write. Oftentimes novice writers (and I have been guilty of this) tend to use way too many exclamation points, far too many adjectives and adverbs, and they want to show off their vocabulary. Less is more. Stick to the meat of the story. Understatement is powerful.” -- Marvin D. Wilson in Meet the Editor.
Guilty! Well, not so much anymore. I reread the three short-shorts (all under 500 words) I submitted last week. I found: no adverbs in any of them, zero adjectives in one, a smattering of adjectives in the longest one, and two adjectives in the third. I’m not one of those authors who proposes all adjectives and adverbs be abolished—at least not adjectives. However, when one appears in my writing, it’s because I’ve given its use enough thought that I know why it’s there. I do shy away from adverbs. Many times they’re unnecessary. For example:

“Go away!” Ted shouted loudly.

How else can one shout but loudly? In fact, given Ted’s comment, is shouted needed? The exclamation point shows the reader he shouted.

Mary sauntered leisurely along the beach.

Leisurely is redundant here, because sauntered means to walk in a leisure manner.

I’m sure you’ve all heard this before. Many authors haven’t. I have a submission in front of me that contains seven adjectives in the first two paragraphs (about fifty words total). The story’s good, but the writing could be tighter. I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to accept it.

In my writing, I use adjectives and adverbs only if they add to characterization or make something clearer for the reader. I prefer to show the reader a character acts shyly, or runs wildly, or. . .. You get the idea.

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