Don’t Try So Hard: Curse of the Adjective

adjective, writing, Writing Advice
“The splendiferous assortment of physically capable men triggered the beautiful blonde to weep from her magnificently aqua eyes.”
The only thing Microsoft Word says is wrong with the above sentence is that I used the word ‘blonde’ instead of ‘blonde-haired person’.
It was hard enough to write it, and I can only imagine how hard it might be to read a book composed entirely of sentences like this. I don’t know, because honestly I can’t say I ever bothered to finish the first chapter, and if I did, it must have been at gunpoint.
Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. Of course, as writers, we are always aspiring to be like the greats. We seem to hone in on a style and try in one way or another to emulate it. Not copy, but do our best to write as well. Each author has his or her style. Let me go to the bookshelf for a few seconds.
Stephen King has a no-bullshit way of writing. “The light was killing him, it was frying his howling brains, but he didn’t let it stop him. Too late for that now.” ~ Under the Dome
Dean Koontz is very poetic in his descriptions. “Beyond the service-island overhang, in the windless night, the rain came down in such straight skeins that the rigorous lines should have proved the law of gravity to any disbeliever…” ~ Relentless
J.K. Rowling is precise in her details. “His red eyes fastened upon Snape’s black ones with such intensity that some of the watchers looked away…” or “Ron, Hermione, Fred, George and Fleur lined up in front of Aunt Petunia’s gleaming sink” ~ Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows
Stephanie Meyer loves her adverbs. “I had never been enormously tactful; I had no practice dealing with overly friendly boys.” ~ Twilight
Okay, so now we have some examples.
I myself think I don’t use enough adjectives when I write my first draft, mainly because I just want to get the book down on paper. Editing is where I insert adjectives and adverbs where I believe appropriate. But I am very cautious about keeping it readable. If I start throwing in big words, or even words that are not big but too abundant, I WILL lose readers. I myself am one that hates too many adjectives and too many adverbs, so why should I subject my fans to that?
Of course, there have been a lot of blog posts written about when to use an adverb. It is preferential to say “he said” and let ‘his’ words speak for his tone of voice, rather than saying “he said happily”. Sometimes it is necessary to indicate if someone is speaking sarcastically or with bitterness. So use them. But be careful.
What bugs me the most is when it takes me five minutes to read a sentence because there are SO MANY descriptive words in it that the actual message of the sentence is lost in a sea of adjectives. I have read books in which each and every single noun in the entire book (ok, very slight exaggeration but you get it) is preceded by an adjective. “The robust man snatched his thick hamburger in his meaty hands and shoved it into his wanting mouth. As he masticated the delicious food in his smacking gob, the small table and flimsy chair seemed to groan under the additional frighteningly substantial weight.”
While these two sentences may describe A LOT, I wonder how much of it is actually necessary. Unless you are limited to one paragraph to tell your story, there should be other places in which you can indicate that the table was small and the chair was flimsy, or that the character was robust and had meaty hands. And if he’s robust, I am assuming he has meaty hands, just my opinion. Is it necessary to say that the hamburger was thick? Unless the hamburger is central to the story, I don’t think so.
Instead, could we maybe not say, “The robust man snatched the hamburger in his hand and shoved it into his gob. The chair seemed to groan under the additional weight of its contents.”
No, of course that’s not perfect. I whipped it up in a few seconds. But already, to me, this sentence is so much easier to read and tolerate. I think I still get the same mental picture reading the second example as I do with the first. The second simply doesn’t sound like the writer is trying so hard.
The biggest point I want to make is what I just wrote: DON’T TRY SO HARD! If writing comes naturally, so will the words. I don’t want to read a book that sounds like the writer sifted through the dictionary to describe each and every noun in the book. It is distracting from the actual story, and those that are not writers and not regular readers (like MANY people I know) will be confused or frustrated by the abundance of flowery verbiage. Today I read a few sentences of a book to my husband, who doesn’t read. Well, he reads my books because I make him. Otherwise, he doesn’t read. Not that he’s not smart enough to, he’s just too busy and an ‘outdoor boy’. The book was a thriller, not an encyclopaedia or medical dictionary. Just a regular book. After those first few sentences he told me to just stop because he didn’t understand a thing that I was reading. Too many unnecessary, uncommon words. The message was completely lost in adjectives.
In no way am I saying I have it pegged, or down to a fine art, but I am simply giving my observations of writing that literally drives me insane. Well, no, I don’t let it get as far as driving me insane, I just put it down (unless there’s a gun to my head).

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