Annoying or Awesome? Adjectives and Adverbs

Monday, July 07, 2008

At a recent critique group meeting, we had a discussion about adjectives. Actually, we seem to have a talk about adjectives and adverbs each time we meet. Some of the members put a bunch of these describing words into their work to paint a picture of exactly what they want the reader to see. Other members of my group sprinkle these words throughout their stories, but they use more specific nouns and strong verbs. So, which is better? I'm not sure if there is a clear-cut answer.

I tend to go with the school of thought that the fewer adjectives and adverbs a writer has in their writing, the better. Then when these cute, little words pop up, they really stand out without someone having to point them out to you. :) So, when I am critiquing manuscripts for my group, I am constantly marking out adjectives (even more than adverbs), especially if there are a bunch of color or size words together. This probably drives the members of my group crazy, but they still let me come each time anyway.

How often do we REALLY need to tell the color of something unless the color is unusual or important in the novel or story? For example, one writer I know has orange creatures that live in an orange village and eat only orange food. Okay, this is important and interesting to the story--most creatures aren't orange and only eat one color of food.

But is it important that the creature has on a red and blue striped shirt and wears green tennis shoes? Probably not, and then there are a whole lot of colors the reader has to keep track of, too. Kind of like the Lego picture above. A whole lot of colors coming together and almost overwhelming the senses. Couldn't the orange creature have on a striped shirt and high tops? Sure, I might see a yellow and green striped shirt and black high tops while another member in my group might see a purple and pink shirt and periwinkle high tops. But my point is, does that matter to the story? Just something to think about.

Less is more is a cliche, but one that holds true for writing, in my opinion. Stephen King agrees with my adjective/adverb theory in his book On Writing, and he's had just slightly more success than me. :) Do you need to tell us that the huge, enormous, brown, spotted snake wrapped around the tree? Or could you say instead: The boa constrictor wrapped itself around the eight-foot tall tree, and none of the trunk was showing?

So, in my writing group, I will keep with my theory, and others will keep with theirs. This leads to a good discussion each month and hopefully, improvements in all our writing. After all, that is what is important--creating a story some reader will love (and some editor will buy.:)

Happy Writing!
Margo Dill


Shelli said...

I agree with you. Less is more, and we don't need all those adjectives and adverbs.

Anonymous said...

As I've grown as a writer, I find myself re-evaluating every adverb I use...wondering if there is a way I can show it rather than just using the adverb. Sometimes it is unavoidable though. As for adjectives such as color...sometimes I think it's just too much unnecessary detail.

Anonymous said...

You inspired me to review my WIP, and holy smokes!! Time to take a closer look at adjectives/adverbs. What an a/a pig I am!!

Anonymous said...

Adjectives and adverbs are very important ; they help lead the imagination and strongly evoke emotions that get us out of the plane logical terrain and into a more entertainig and vivid experience. Just read Brave New World and underline each adjective and adverb.

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