Adjectives

I love a well placed adjective. Key words: well placed.

An adjective is: a descriptive word or phrase that modifies a noun. An adjective describes a noun. An adverb describes a verb. An adjective tells what a noun is (hot, bright, solid, thin), whereas an adverb describes how something is (slowly, mildly, carefully).

The bright sun loomed over the hot July afternoon.

In this sentence, ‘bright,’ and ‘hot’ are the adjectives. As a reader, and as someone who has seen the sun, I assume that the sun is bright. It is also yellow. These attributes of the sun do not need to be told to the reader. Likewise of ‘hot.’ July is inherently hot. There is no need to inform your reader that July is hot. If the attribute is something that isn’t implied by the noun, such as if the sun was dark, or if July was cold; then it’s worth mentioning.

The dark sun loomed over the cold July afternoon.

Sets a different feel, doesn’t it? The first sentence is boring because it doesn’t present a scene, something interesting, or remarkable. It’s normal. In fiction, things happen. Action. Drama. In the second sentence, the gloomy atmosphere hints that something is wrong. There’s trouble afoot.

And adjective phrase is two or more words strung together to describe a noun, such as: feverishly hot, devilishly seductive, bluntly mean, brightly sweet, swiftly athletic.

Adjective Overload

I’ve seen a lot of writers do this. I call it adjective overload. I think others call it that as well. It’s an apt name. It occurs when too many adjectives are put into a sentence or scene.

The dark sun loomed over the cold July afternoon. My nimble toes were buried underneath a thin layer of yellow sand. The okay book in my sturdy hands went limp; the brightly colored bookmark fell out. It drifted like a heavy leaf to the gritty ground. A puffy, gray cloud slid over the gloomy sun, blocking what grimly dismal light we happy beachgoers had, and replaced it with charcoal shade. The glittering city rose up in the small section of dim sunlight still falling from the overcast sky. Then it too, vanished.

There’s a lot of adjectives in this sentence. A writer doesn’t need to delete all the adjectives from his work, only the unnecessary ones.

The dark sun loomed over the cold July afternoon. My toes were buried underneath a layer of sand. The book in my hands went limp; the bookmark fell out. It drifted like a leaf to the ground. A cloud slid over the sun, blocking what dismal light we happy beachgoers had, and replaced it with charcoal shade. The glittering city rose up in the section of sunlight still falling from the sky. Then it too, vanished.

I deleted several, but I left several. How did I pick and chose which to keep and which to delete? It’s a feel. In a second revision of this imaginary draft I might even cut more. I left “dismal” and “happy” in the same sentence because I like the contradiction those two adjectives create.

Now, none of this here implies that no writer can use adjectives. You can throw them around like parade candy; I don’t care. But, beware that too many adjectives take away from the writing. Using too many will make a writer appear like a new writer, an amateur in the field. If you don’t want to cut all those adjectives, or if you don’t quite ‘get’ what I’m saying here, that’s alright. It’s not something you learn with a snap of an experienced writer’s magic fingers. It’s something that you grow accustomed to, something that you learn over time. After you’ve spent some time gaining experience and you return to an older manuscript, you’ll be amazed at how your writing has changed. Mine has, even in the past few years, and it blows my mind.

Keep writing. You’ll never be a writer if you give up.

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