Monday, September 22, 2014

Writing 101: Spooky, Stormy and Other Meaningless Adjectives

It's happening more and more. Authors are relying upon adjectives to tell their stories for them. When you're truly painting a picture with words, certain descriptors like gloomy just aren't good enough. After all, your gloomy might look different from mine. So are you really painting that scene, or just using meaningless adjectives? 

Blah, Blah, Blah

It was a stormy night, and the horses were spooked in the barn. She could hear them making creepy noises when she got close to the grimy windows.

Notice how I didn't really tell you much of anything in the passage above? What do "creepy noises" sound like? What's so grimy about the windows? And by stormy, what does the narrator mean? Is is snowing? Is it raining? Is there wind? How do I know? The above passage is stuffed with meaningless adjectives. Now let's figure out how to get them out of there. 

The wind howled as it battered the windows, driving the pouring rain in all directions. The horses whined and screamed with each brilliant flash of lightning, noises she could hear when she got close to the mud-caked window panes. 

Now you can picture the storm and more clearly hear the horses. This passage is more descriptive than the last, and yet it contains fewer adjectives. It sounds like the opposite of what you were taught about writing, but remember that less is more. That applies to adjectives more than anything else. 

Don't try to use the adjectives to tell the story; telling the story is your job as the author. Instead, cut out the meaningless adjectives you find and merely paint the picture. 

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