One of the big things in writing now is to limit your modifiers. I’m a big fan of Hemingway who used hardly any adjectives and adverbs, to the point that I’m told in my writing to be more descriptive, but a lot of stuff that I’m reading by fellow aspiring writers/bored teenagers is overwhelmed with adjectives.
I recently saw this in a forum:
I was just wondering, so I can improve on my writing. I tend to use many adjectives… I guess I go a bit adjective crazy and get carried away when describing somethings. I would really appreciate it if anyone could offer some advice on this subject. How much is too much, exactly? How much is too little? Get my drift…
And here was my response:
A good rule for adjectives is, don’t use them unless:
- They add something to the story without interrupting the action. “She pushed her blonde hair out of her eyes” works a lot better than “She had long blonde hair with curling edges.” If you interrupt action with lots of details, it’s as if the characters are just sitting around waiting for you to finish. If you add too much of this, readers will skip it, or possibly even stop reading what you wrote.
- It’s something necessary to the story. Does it matter that the random stranger we’ll never see again has green eyes and is wearing an X brand shirt? No? Then don’t tell us.
- It adds to the character. Tell us a few details that make the characters really stand out or add something to their personality/background. “She looked at me with tired eyes” works better than “She was tired.”
- It’s something your character would notice. If it’s important to them, tell us about it. If they don’t care, then we probably don’t need to care either.
- Please don’t give us paragraphs about what your character is wearing. Most of the time it’s completely irrelevant to anything in the story, and chances are anyone out of high school doesn’t care.
As for adverbs, it’s better to show us through action than tell us with adverbs. Don’t write, “He ran quickly down the street.” Instead, give us “His sneakers pounded on the pavement as he outpaced his pursuers.”
Hope that helps!
This is something that I’m continually working on myself. For example, I mention once the hair color of the daughter in the novel I’m currently working on, The Lone Wolf. It’s completely irrelevant to my whether it’s blonde, or brown, or blue. But feedback I’m getting suggests that readers want to form a mental picture of her and need this detail, so I’ve worked it in a few times. However, I don’t mention the hair color of random neighbors or people at the bookstore her mom frequents because it just doesn’t matter.
If this is helpful, please let me know! And of course, even if you didn’t, any and all feedback is appreciated.