Five adjectives in one sentence are better than six; four adjectives are better than five; three are better than four; two are better than three…By using fewer words to obtain the effect you desire, you will force yourself to use more accurate and more powerful words-Dean Koontz, ‘How To Write Best Selling Fiction’.
Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place-Strunk and White, ‘The Elements Of Style’.
These are two great sources with amazing advice. They are not alone in their philosophy. I have read this time and time again and I understand completely where they are coming from. I am a self-designated skipper. Some of you know exactly what I mean. I couldn’t care less how many yards of silk was used in the duchess evening gown. Unless it winds up in a murder scene, don’t go there.
I love Jerry Jenkins. He has written numerous blogs on the importance of simplicity and avoiding the urge to prettify your prose. He calls it written-ese. It’s a special language we use when we forget to Just Say It.
He provided the following example from a beginner’s work he was editing.
“The firedrop from the pommel of Tambre’s sword shot past the shimmering silver mist of her involuntary dispersal.”
Whoa! How many times did you have to read that?
None of these authors disparage adjectives and adverbs. They see them as indispensable parts of speech. The problem is when, why, and how many times we use them. Rich ornate prose is hard to digest.
Anything that interferes with communication-excessive adjectives and adverbs, overly complicated phrasing, too elaborate metaphors and similes presented solely for the fact that the writer wants to show off his/her skills, should be omitted.
The best way to communicate with your reader is to keep your writing simple and direct.
I have been accused and rightly so of on-the-nose-writing, overwriting, redundancies, and throat-clearing. I’ve also had a close relationship with the words “that” and “had”. I blame it on inexperience and just not knowing any better.
Novelist and editor Sol Stein says the power of your words is diminished by not picking just the better one. “He proved a scrappy, active fighter,” is more powerful if you settle on the stronger of those two adjectives. Less is more. Which would you choose?
When editing your draft, remember that every word counts. Every word should have a reason for being and not just added fluff. “It sounds good,” won’t cut it.
- Avoid throat-clearing- This is a literary term used to describe a story or chapter that finally begins after two or three pages of scene setting or backstory. You may write beautifully but nobody wants to get bogged down in the description. I could care less the duchess wore a gown with six gold buttons encrusted with diamond dust running down the back unless it was found at a crime scene. Get on with the story.
- Choose normal words– When you’re tempted to show off your vocabulary, think reader-first. Get out of the way of your message.
- Avoid subtle redundancies– “She nodded her head in agreement.” Those last four words could be deleted. When you nod, it’s your head and if you nod, you are agreeing. You don’t have to tell your reader this. “He clapped his hands.” What else would he clap? “She shrugged her shoulders.” What else would she shrug?
- Avoid the words Up and Down-unless they are really needed.
- Usually, delete the words ‘that’ and ‘had’. Read the sentence with them in it and then without. Are they really necessary? You will be amazed at how many times these words are used incorrectly.
- Give the reader credit- Once you’ve established something, you don’t need to repeat it. Another one I’m guilty of 🙂
- Avoid telling what’s not happening. “He didn’t respond.” “She didn’t say anything.” If you don’t say things happened, we’ll assume they didn’t.
- Avoid being an adjectival maniac.- Good writing is a thing of strong nouns and verbs, not adjectives. Use them sparingly.
- Avoid Hedging verbs-…smiled lightly, almost laughed.
- Avoid the word literally-when you mean figuratively. I was literally climbing the walls, My eyes literally fell out of my head–really?
- Avoid on-the-nose-writing.-You don’t need to tell every action of every character in each scene, what they’re doing with each hand, etc.
I hope this information helps you to be more aware of the words you use. Choose your words wisely, they do matter.
I would like to end this blog by giving credit to Jerry Jenkins for the information I’ve shared. He has a great blog for writers and provides not only invaluable information but free tools to assist writers on their journey. If you haven’t visited his site, I would encourage you to do so 🙂
I’ve been a little busy the last few months and have revisited some of my favorite posts. I hope you enjoy this one. Most of the concepts I write about are simple. I just never really gave them a lot of thought before I started writing my novel.
When writing, remember less is more. Stay away from qualifiers. They weaken your prose, and the result is the exact opposite of what your were trying to achieve. I know why you use them. I’m hooked on ‘very’. Other people are hooked on the word ‘too’. If you are resorting to qualifiers for emphasis, odds are, you are using the wrong word in the first place.
These qualifiers are the words your English teacher dreaded seeing, such as very, too, really, and sort of. When you overuse these words, your writing will seem lazy, as if you haven’t taken the time to look for the right word.
Since ‘very’ is my nemesis, I thought I would provide a list of more powerful words to use to replace ‘very’ ___________.
- very fast quick
- very dry parched
- very dirty squalid
- very afraid terrified
- very angry furious
- very hot scolding
- very hungry ravenous
- very large colossal
- very clean spotless
- very clever brilliant
- very beautiful exquisite
- very ugly hideous
- very pretty beautiful
- very thin gaunt
- very tired exhausted
I think you get the picture. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope this got you thinking.
I personally like to read communications where I don’t notice the writing at all. You can achieve that by investing in great content and then stripping away anything that detracts from it.
Avoid fancy words. Avoid the elaborate, the pretentious, the coy, and the cute. Never call a stomach a tummy without good reason.
You should write in a way that comes easy and natural. I don’t know anybody that says the sky is beauteous, or she was ostentatious. I certainly don’t use those words in my everyday conversations, as a matter of fact, I don’t use them in my writing either.
I could just imagine my reader stumbling over these words. They are long and require effort to read. They slow down the pace and pull readers out of their suspension of disbelief, by reminding them they are reading.
I saw this example in a blog and thought it did a great job of getting my point across.
Consequences of erudite vernacular utilized irrespective of necessity: problems with using long words needlessly.
I bet that sentence drove you nuts. I know the example is a bit extreme, but what do you think? Should I go with simple or fancy?
My thought is, you should write problems instead of consequences, using instead of utilized, long words instead of erudite vernacular, and needlessly instead of irrespective of necessity. Keep it simple.
Use longer words only if your meaning is so specific no other words will do.
Something to think about.