Dear Rob Thomas, I Love Your Lyrics OR "Crutch"

"All you needed was a crutch.
One step away from down.
I could never be your crutch;
I could break you down."

We're going to have a little conversation about adjectives, but first I'm going to tell you why we're going to have a little talk about adjectives, even though the majority of  the people subscribe to this blog already know much of the following 'writerly advice' themselves.

There's a website called deviantArt where all manner of artistic expression may be put before the cyber world (which is why, though I love dA, I would not suggest you let your middle-schoolers view it without sitting-in-the-chair-next-to-them-all-filters-on-strict levels of parental guidance). Quite a bit of the literary arts at dA is comprised of fledgling writer hopefuls taking their first stab at the beast with no real zoological reference, known as a "successful novel".

These dear boys and girls may have all the imagination to make a decent go of it, but I find the absolute first earmark of Newbie-ism when I begin to read one of these offerings is the use of adjectives.

No, not *in* the use of adjectives--adjectives are splendiforous, in my opinion, even made-up ones--but rather in how the adjective is used. A very similar post on this blog addresses the same with adverbs (the crossbreed produced when one mixes the DNA from an adjective and a verb, and then lets it grow up as a latchkey part of speech, what with all that disreputable "-ly" business).

Strong, evocative writing rarely occurs if one uses adjectives (or yes, adverbs--slippery little rugrats) as a crutch for active tense.

Did I mention how much I believe in adjectives? I do, I do, but it's still true a strong, colorful, active verb will trump a flurry of adjectives almost every time.

And because I did not learn this on my own, I would very much like my readers, especially those who helped me learn the error of my own ways in this subject (*cough*Haveners*cough*), to take a moment to give one bad example of using adjectives as crutches, then giving a revised example of that same sentence, improved by some fantastic active verbage, in the comments, of course. Extra brownie points if you feel like being twice as generous and doing the same with adverbs, just as a refresher.

Personal Note: Last night I dreamt I'd left the house to go on some errand and when I got back my mother had invited over a band to rehearse, and they'd brought with them a bunch of agents, some of whom were of the literary variety. My mother gave them an old, unpolished copy of my mss, and I freaked. They liked it a lot, which made me feel like I was in trouble somehow, because if they liked THAT DRIVEL they couldn't be legit in the least. Then they made me take the annual Bunny Ocean Caves (something my brain completely made up, as we have no caves, and certainly no bunnies in them, though admittedly we have lots of ocean), and join their softball team. Um, if you don't know this about me, I am absolutely crap at most athletics, and I generally hate saltwater.

But I like bunnies . . . and caves. Even sandstoney ones.


Dan Holloway said...

Ha Ha - your personal note makes me think of Manderley.

OK, how about this

The black sky glowered darkly down and Jack's wavering eyes struggled to make out the twisting road beneath his feet as he slowly succumbed to blindness and despair.

which is what I'd have written at a-level and loved. What's the sentence trying to do? Show Jack's terror as the night closes in and he's lost on a country road.

Darkness sucked the light from Jack's eyes and heart.

might do exactly the same job. I do love adjectives as a rule though - AND adverbs. There is far too much prejudice against them. Thank you for flying the flag.

adjectives are like calories - you need them, but too often they are empty, adding nothing - they are there for atmosphere and effect but there's only so much atmosphere and effect you can have without zooming in to the actual detail - which is what adjectives are actually for

Phillipa said...

I like a nice bit of adjective. It's a shame they are out of fashion at the moment. Here's an adjective laden sentence and a lite version.

" Light drizzle fell and the earthy smell of wet soil filled the air. A gusty wind shook the treetops, delivering more fat drops of water".

"The smell of wet soil filled the air. Drops of water smattered on her jacket hood."

alexander... said...

Not quite on topic, but this is part of a text I give new execs at the agency to precis (we run a 16-module induction on how to write). I have appended the precis as well. The original is from Charles 'I'm paid by the word and by God I'm going to let you know it' Dickens.

"My father's family name being Pirrip, and my Christian name Philip, my infant tongue could make of both names nothing longer or more explicit than Pip. So, I called myself Pip, and came to be called Pip."

My name is Pip.

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