Sunday, February 12, 2006

Nouns and verbs are your friends. Don't piss them off!

Today I want to write about something that's been bugging me lately. It's the problem many writers seem to have with using adverbs and adjectives: they use too many. Too many modifiers turns an otherwise good story into a milky paste. A slushy paste. The writers who avoid the slush pile are the ones who know how to manage adverbs and adjectives. It isn't difficult; it just takes a little thought and practice.

I'm sure we all know this already, but sometimes I think we can use a bit of reminding. Adverbs and adjectives are modifiers; they're helpers -- but strong writing doesn't need that extra help. This problem is often compounded by writers who use the chosen modifiers repeatedly in the same text -- a problem I think of as the "rough grey stones" effect. This is the case in which an author describes something, for example, a wall made of "rough grey stones." Now, I see no problem with this if the author doesn't continue to hammer the modifiers each time they refer to the item in question. If, however, the author needs to mention the wall again and always does so with some permutation of the original description, it makes me want to snatch away his or her keyboard and heave it out the window! For heaven's sake -- does the wall always have to be rough and grey and stone? Can't the damn wall ever just be a wall?

I see this most often in physical descriptions of characters -- particularly with eye colors. The manuscript tells us the heroine's eyes are blue. Most often the blue of her eyes will be modified by some ridiculous clich├ęd descriptors like "wide" or "sparkling", but none-the-less they are blue and the author has made a point of telling us that. Fine. She's got blue eyes. My keyboard-snatching impulse only wells up and threatens to explode when each time the heroine looks at something the author reminds me that she's looking at it with her "blue" (sparkling, wide, other stupid adjective here) eyes. Then I want to 1) poke her blue eyes out for good, 2) reject the manuscript, 3) take away the author's keyboard privileges forever!