"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.
"All you needed was a crutch.
A little while back someone whom I follow on Twitter made a few comments about, or linked to and article about, reader guilt. You know, that feeling you get when you come to the realization the book you're currently reading goes beyond your tolerance for bad writing, and you have to decide to stick it out or quietly close it, shelve it, and hope the mocking giggles coming from it one day subside. I know I'm like that. I think I've given up on a grand total of maybe three books in my life, and I have read some really, really bad ones. I mean books that just by existing should legally constitute a criminal act against literature. I won't mention them here, because I'm not quite that callous.
So, yes, I believe it's okay to give up on a book trying to take you beyond endurance, and indeed, I encourage you to know when it's happening . . .
. . . But, I want to look at bad books* from another angle. Therapy. Sometimes the best thing for a writer in the middle of a bad editing slump is to go to the grocery store, pick up a book whose cover screams "I am cheesy and awkwardly-written!", take it home, and read it cover-to-cover. You know what will happen? Well, yes, your brain will eventually congeal into something resembling post-Thanksgiving gravy, but before that your internal editor will begin doing her job automatically. She'll edit like mad. Syntax, bulky sentence structure, passive tense, repetition; she'll sink her teeth into that mess, and as a small voice (or sometimes a righteous bellow) behind your eyes, she'll worry it until she considers it NOT likely to give you a migraine.
And there is this to say about bad books: very few of them have nothing to teach you, even if it is by exemplifying what not to do. Sometimes a predominately bad book has that one shiny feature that--while it doesn't redeem the book as a whole--gives back something for the effort of reading it.
*Although, I should clarify, I don't mean guilty pleasure books when I say 'bad'. I mean books the tech specs of which make you wonder what drug the acquisitions person took when he or she gave the go ahead to publish said volume.
Personal Notes: For some reason, it always makes me sad when a girl with pretty, long hair cuts it drastically shorter. I actually grieve for the loss of other girls' hair. I think it has to do with how slowly my own hair grows, which saddens me, because I love my hair long.
Secondly, Authoress Anonymous gave me a dozen gold stars for impeccable grammar. Which guarantees no less than three grammatical mistakes in this post, I'm sure.
My sister Jamie and I have the following conversation while watching Buffy:
Angel--"Go ahead, I'm just an animal, right?"
Buffy:--"No, animals I like. You're a monster."
Jamie--"Oh, c'mon, you know you can't kill a face like that."
Me--"Um, yeah she can. It's like Beauty and the Beast up in there."
Jamie--"He's prettier than the Beast."
Me--"Hey, the Beast couldn't take of his face like Angel can."
I’ve never actually liked the word ‘start’. There’s something both overly-simplistic and too abrupt about it, which is probably why it’s used to get races going. Start; it sounds absolutely made for barking in a frenzied, yappy-dog kind of way. I am also, not a big person for yappy dogs.
And yet, to me, ‘begin’ sounds pretentious. ‘Begin"’ wears diamonds and enormous, plumed hats while the Titanic slowly drifts toward luxury-hating icebergs.
Um, I was supposed to post yesterday.
I kinda got in a yelling contest instead.
And today? Today, The Toddler became three.
So here's me, telling him how beautiful he is, and how much passion he inspires in me.
It's mostly the good kind.