Monday, January 25, 2010

Adjectives and Adverbs Fettish

Tsk, tsk, comes out. I love adjectives and adverbs. (Hides under 3rd grade glow in the dark space comforter).

I do. I can't help it. Blue can't be just blue. Smurf blue, baby sky blue, smoky blue of the dusty horizon. Okay. The last one is a joke ('ll never know). Let me tell you, starting out I was slapped with the harsh, cold anti adjective/adverb tornado of the writing industry.

To admit, I didn't *really* understand what they were scoffing at. Of course, now I do...and I want to share what I know and have grown to understand. It's an evolving thing here, so if you think something's way off base, feel free to flip the bird at me.

Here we go (interpreted from the Gregg Reference Manual, 8th Edition):

Adjective: Modifies a noun or pronoun. A word, phrase or clause that answers what kind, how many, or which one.

  1. Dismal Amazon rain (what kind)
  2. Ten Amazon tribes (how many)
  3. The other Amazon tribe (which one)
Adverb: Modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb. A word, phrase or clause that answers when, where, why, in what manner, to what extent.

  1. In a timely manner (when)
  2. I quickly rose (in what manner)
  3. He occasionally visits (to what extent)
It's well known that the adjective/adverb angst ranges from frowned upon to outright lynching. Me, I think that moderation is the key. My first drafts are riddled, drowning, and splattered with adjectives and adverbs. Through my first editing pass, I focus on them, each on a case-by-case basis.

With each one I ask myself: Is there a better way to write this? And, am I using it as a tell instead of a show?

Example: Surpringly, Julie didn't expect the party.

Revision: Julie opened the door and dropped her keys in the bowl. Flipping on the light, the burst of "Happy Birthday!" scared her back against the wall. On a laugh, she smacked Tony's shoulder and said, "I didn't expect you to do this!"

The revision expands and gives three dimensions to the character, the secondary character, and their dynamic to each other. The first is dry as a saltine cracker.

Other times it's just about overload. My original work Flora Planet is a prime example of adjective overdose. (I'm only giving the first paragraph, as it's rather embarrassing in hindsight)

"Standing in the forest clearing, my crew the first to stand in a new planet without assistive gear, I felt humbled. Thick warm air enclosed around us. Tall, thick trees, lush green plants, bold beautiful flowers, and bright blue sky filled our eyes. Leaves so large they were bigger than the hand. So many variations of green: dark greens almost black, bright green vines, moss green growing on rocks, deep green leaves, and green brown tree needles."
"Standing in the forest clearing, my crew the first to stand in a new planet without assistive gear, I felt humbled. Thick air enveloped us. Leaves, in varying shades of green from moss to almost black, were bigger than the hand."
See? Much tighter. Did the reader really need EVERY shade and to what part the shade was with? No, that can unfold throughout the story. Could you imagine a whole story of the original? EEK!

Okay, enough rambling for now.

Good writing all!


  1. Great post! I fight with this very same thing. In fact, I was writing a very similar blog entry about my "ah ha" moment when I finally grasped the error of my ways.

  2. Thanks, Elisabeth. Now, 20 years ago our love of all thing prose would be much appreciated...