Adjectives - Sprinkle Sparingly and Thoughtfully
Too many adjectives can destroy a good story - but well chosen ones bring it to life. Here is an invitation to think about a small number of adjectives
I find it annoying to read stories that are so weighed down with adjectives that the action slows to the pace of a limping slug. For example:
“She raised the gleaming glass of clear, fresh, cool water to her parched lips and heaved a grateful sigh”.
Not only are there a lot of adjectives there, but most of them add too little to the image that would have been in our minds without them. I am no novelist, and I don’t pretend to be a great creative writer but I do love words and notice how people use them.
I have been thinking about these adjectives:
heavy and light; moist and dry
and these nouns:
cold and heat; cake and hands
First, make a mental note of what each of the eight words means to you on its own.
Now let’s put them in conventional pairs and see what picture appears in your mind. For me, it is different from the one generated by the word on its own and more interesting – sometimes creating a whole scene from my memory.
- Heavy cold (my picture is of my dad in bed, sneezing)
- Light rain (or drizzle – not enough to stop me from going out)
- Moist cake (sounds tempting – mine is carrot cake)
- Dry hands (maybe you need some moisturising cream)
Swap them around a bit and what do you get? Here are some examples:
- Heavy rain (I’m not going out now, I’ll wait)
- Moist hands (very nervous perhaps – certainly not tempting like the cake)
- Dry cake (no thanks, I’ll have a biscuit)
Finally, I am going to suggest some less conventional pairs.
- Moist cold
- Dry rain
- Light hands
Allow your imagination to lead you somewhere. What does dry rain suggest to you?
Put these adjectives with other words and see if you find any unusual pairings that make your imagination work a little harder and discover something new. I have been hearing a moist voice and a light whine. I’d probably prefer a light wine – in about half an hour I think.
Word matching like this can absorb otherwise unproductive moments in supermarket queues, traffic jams and vehicle marmalade. Enjoy!