Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Walkabout Wednesday: Thank you, adverbs and adjectives!

It's Wednesday. Let's go walkabout.

(I'm bringing along a few of my mates as I wander through the vast wilderness of the publishing industry, learning the ins and outs, and having a grand adventure.)

Walkabout, Week 65:

As Thanksgiving approaches I always think of the stories my uncle told us about when he owned a convenience store and guys (it was always a guy) would come frantically running into the store mid-morning on Thanksgiving Day in need of a turkey, apparently not realizing that a frozen turkey takes FOR. EVER. to thaw, let alone cook. But I digress.

In the spirit of randomness that always permeates this website, I'm talking about something for which I am infinitely grateful: Adverbs and Adjectives.

Generally speaking, a modern-day writer is supposed to use adverbs and adjectives sparingly. Why, you ask? It is a "show, don't tell" issue. For example...

ADJECTIVES: You want your reader to know that your main female character is gorgeous. You could throw in an adjective...

"Beautiful Sarah Eden walked into the room."

The sentence is, of course, one-hundred percent accurate. It is also a classic example of telling your reader something instead of the more powerful approach of showing them. Try this version on for size.

"Sarah Eden walked into the room and every pair of masculine eyes immediately turned in her direction. The Super Bowl played on the screens in the background, entirely forgotten, bowls of snack food abandoned as dozens of men rushed to her side."

Again, accurate (and based on multiple life experiences... ahem... cough...), but much better. You're letting the reader piece together the fact that this Sarah Eden is a total knockout.


ADVERBS: You would like your reader to know that a particular character is agreeing to something, but not with any degree of enthusiasm. So, you throw in an adverb...

"I guess that would be alright," Joe said reluctantly.

Again, this is a "Show, Don't Tell" problem. The "reluctantly" certainly explains Joe's attitude. And, used sparingly, can be an efficient way of conveying information. But, look at the difference if you SHOW his reluctance, rather than simply tell the reader about it.

Joe didn't answer immediately. His eyes flicked between me and his fully restored Austin Healey 3000 MK III
. His grip on the keys tightened until his knuckles turned an alarming shade of white. "I guess that would be alright."

That works better than just throwing in the adverb, right?

...Now back to my undying gratitude for these descriptors. Adjectives and adverbs are completely under-appreciated. I use them ALL. THE. TIME. Seems like I just confessed to breaking the rule I took such pains to expound upon, doesn't it? I didn't. Not really. You can use these little gems of description, as long as you use them correctly.
  • Don't use them to "Tell." (See the examples above.)
  • Make sure the amount of adjectives and adverbs you use matches your writing style.
  • Don't go all Charles Dickens on the thing. Modern writers, readers and publishers aren't looking for six pages of straight adjectives.
  • Find exciting adverbs and adjectives. If you're going to describe something, do it in a way that isn't boring. Boring Adjectives: Good, bad, nice, mean... Boring Adverbs:... Pretty much any adverb you use after the word "said" in a dialogue tag.
So thank you, adverbs and adjectives, for spicing up our writing and for presenting an ongoing challenge!

Have a fantabulous Thanksgiving! (notice that amazingly unboring adjective)

Don't forget to leave a comment to enter for your chance to win November's giveaway prize (a gift card to LUSH.)

(ignore "Read More!")---->


Kim Coates said...

Ah, the dreaded "A" words of writing. So much to remember. So much to apply.

I LOVE your Sarah Eden example. She sounds REALLY HOT!

Krista said...

I really liked this. A great breakdown of what not to do, but also a little leeway. Encouraging. Thanks, Sarah!

Kimberly said...

You really have a knack for coming up with entertaining and informative examples. Brilliantly done!


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