Some years ago the fine short story writer Raymond Carver offered recollections about learning to write from teacher and novelist John Gardner.
Nothing vague or blurred, no smoky-glass prose … He made me see that absolutely everything was important in a short story. It was of consequence where the commas and periods went.
This attention to detail is precisely why Raymond Carver acquired a reputation as a short story master; rarely, if ever, was a word or a series of words purposeless and uncertain.
His prose was tight and emphatic, and his phrases never dangled or were superfluous. His craftsmanship honed his work to its essence. Sentence structure and punctuation were crucial, the proper word was essential, and what was omitted as important as what was inserted. Which brings us to adverbs and adjectives. Clearly, Carver would cast a suspicious eye on these forms of speech because many times they add little to what is already on the page.
Frequently, they are not important, and in a short story, that means they have no business there. But such cosmetic touch-up often turns out to be redundant or simply uninspiring.
In the last two instances, the verbs themselves provide the acting and the emotion in the sentences; the adverbs merely underscore what the verb has already described. These are redundancies, and they do little for the prose except to give it an awkward cast. How else would a stone sink but quickly? How else would a fire truck bell clang but loudly?
The key is to gauge the relationship of the adverb and the verb it modifies: Are they saying essentially the same thing? If so, there is a redundancy, and the adverb should come out—fast! They also encourage lazy writing.
On occasion, one finds oneself immersed in the literary throes of a piece of prose where there is very little in the way of advancement of the plot or development of. Learn to write powerful themes and you can turn the smallest, silliest, most escapist of stories (like, say, a superhero comic) into something great. 2 thoughts on “ Don’t Use Adverbs and Adjectives to Prettify Your Prose ” email@example.com December 2, at am. preaulyn, The . The Reedsy Book Editor is a free online writing tool allowing any author to format and create professional ePub and print-ready files in seconds. How to Write a Thesis Statement. Whether you're writing a short essay or a doctoral dissertation, your thesis statement can be one of the trickiest sentences to.
Far more dramatic would be to write:. He whispered words of love … my sweet, dear lover, my angel … he purred his contentment, his joy …. No adverb here, and the drama is enhanced.
And who could blame these same readers for laying the book aside? Not with adjectives, though. These suffer the same general malady as adverbs—usually they are too numerous, they clutter up our writing, and they can turn a deft phrase into a ponderous mass. This is a tight, dramatic description.
The dark, dreary house had an empty, suspicious feel to it, the thick air stale and sour with undefined, scary kitchen odors …. Do all these adjectives add much at all? But note the other bits of overwriting: Mark Twain had it right: Decorate that noun some more, your fragile self-confidence hears. Well, yes and no. Try negative attention, the kind that might push the reader away from the prose. Read the words without adjectives … Now read them with the adjectives inserted. Article source anything more provided by including the adjectives?
Why the adjectives, then?
Adjectives are a way of lengthening your sentences and providing a more complicated word picture, and this, in turn, will intrigue the reader because there will seem to be substance in the prose. The reader will experience How To Write Powerful Prose, and hence, the reader will enjoy it more.
But misplaced adjectives can do as much damage as botched-up syntax. If the adjectives are there only to prettify the prose, they should be eliminated. Reach for adjectives that give more information than can already be found in the noun—when, in fact, an adjective should be used at all. Frankly, most adjectives are not needed. What benefits they offer are usually much less than the havoc they create.
Brandon Sanderson Lecture 3: Intro to Prose (1/5)
Click here to join. Some writers would feel compelled to pare it down. It could be tighter, but I would do so only if the wording was awkward or redundant. Lazy writers use them to shift the work to the reader rather than sweat a little to make the sentence say what you want it to say. This article seems to be leading to misinterpretation, by which some writers think that adjectives and adverbs are OUT. I was editing today and found this sentence filled with adjectives: You must be logged in to post a comment.