When I was in elementary school, I was taught to incorporate as many adjectives and adverbs into my stories as possible.
My writing sounded like this:
The big, fat, yellow sun shined brightly against the light blue sky.
Colorful, isn’t it? And yet, sometimes those colors are the very things that distract the reader from the story. Literary agent, Sally Apokedak, puts it this way: “…too much description makes the colors all bleed together.”
Nowadays, adjectives and adverbs are considered to be lazy writing. They tend to tell the action, emotion, scenery, etc. instead of allowing the reader to experience it for themselves.
But didn’t books use adverbs and adjectives in the old days?
Yes. But we’re not still making black and white movies anymore, are we? We’ve improved our technology and have discovered new—better—ways of capturing film.
Same with books. We’ve discovered ways to write that invite the reader to delve deeper into the story. We want them to not only read about what the character sees; we want them to see it for themselves. We don’t want them to only read about what the character feels; we want them to hear it for themselves.
Overusing adverbs and adjectives is a form of telling rather than showing.
How to Fix This
Replace adverbs and adjectives with strong verbs and concrete nouns. This will help the reader picture the scene for themselves rather than be told how to picture it. Choose specific nouns and strong verbs that will convey the certain emotion that you want the reader to experience.
She ran quickly up the stairs.
Replace with a strong verb, such as:
She hurried up the stairs.
She rushed up the stairs.
The adverb isn’t necessary in those sentences. Plus, the verbs convey a much stronger sense of action, don’t you think?
Here’s another example:
The living room was dark and dreary. The long, draping curtains hung over the windows, blocking sunlight from shining brightly into the room.
By replacing the above adjectives with specific nouns, the phrase can be rewritten to the following:
The living room resembled a cave with its dim lighting. Even the pinch pleat curtains that draped over the windows were closed, as if it were a sin to let the sunlight stream into the room.
Should all adverbs and adjectives be deleted?
Not all of them. But nowadays, agents and publishers do not want adjectives and adverbs to slow down the pace of a story. And neither do the readers. Thanks to TV, movies, snapchats, and 3-minute YouTube videos, the attention span of the average reader has decreased a significant amount over the last couple of decades.
Although it is okay to use adjectives sparingly (adverb not intended!), try to find a way to find concrete nouns and verbs to describe the object without relying on an adjective to do the job.
Here’s another example:
The drink was hot.
Rather than telling the reader how the drink felt, use the effect it has on a character through using the senses—that way, the reader can experience it for themselves.
You can replace the above sentence with:
The drink burned my tongue.
Through the strong verb burned, we know that the drink must have been hot. The reader comes to that conclusion themselves. Not only that, but we can feel the burn on our own tongue since we have probably experienced a similar situation ourselves.
Too many adjectives and adverbs get in the way of the flow of the story. The reader can easily forget where the story was headed when the author tries to describe too many objects/places/people in detail.
Ask yourself: Is it important that the reader knows what color my character’s shoes are? Is it important to the story or the mood/emotion of this scene to show that the walls are gray? If not, leave the object blank. Readers love to use their own imagination and choose a color for themselves. Then, highlight on the specific and unique details that are significant to the story, characterization, mood/theme/emotion, or setting development.
The overuse of adjectives and adverbs is a common mistake that beginning writers make, and most agents and publishers cringe when they spot this.
Again, it’s okay to use sparingly. Adjectives tend to be more accepted than adverbs—just make sure that the adjectives are spread out and not clumped together within a sentence or paragraph.
Remember: When it comes to adverbs and adjectives, less is always more.
When you do decide to leave an adjective or adverb, be careful with where it is placed and how it’s used. Try your best to see if there is any other way you can describe the object, character, or setting.
If you have no choice but to keep it, then read over the page and make sure that the story continues to move along at a good pace. Make sure that the description is woven into the story and not the other way around.
How do you rewrite adjectives and adverbs in your manuscript?What’s Wrong With Adjectives & Adverbs? @TessaEmilyHall #writingtips #writingcraft Click To Tweet