We all have been lectured that using adjectives and adverbs in excess, or even at all, is a sign of poor writing. I don’t know how many times I’ve read or heard, “show don’t tell.” Yet, many of the hugely successful writers use them—all the “ly” words and the flowerily descriptions. Of course they can get away with it; they are the big guys. But, really, do we need to put all the modifiers in the trash can?
I have been on a bit of a mission lately. I’m reading book after book across genres with an attempt to better understand what grabs me and what doesn’t. I’m on a self- constructed learning curve. Of course being by the pool in Tuscany doesn’t hurt the process. I even noticed that my dear husband worked through a “Nora” to understand what I’m fussing with. He said he skipped all the romance scenes, which makes me wonder what was really left over. I never asked him to read it, his choice.
But back to the point. Does one have to have thousands in sales to have permission to use an adjective?
I rewrote a scene yesterday. It was not over the top with description, but yes, there was a mention of the sky, the color of the sunflowers, and a sense of the breeze. I’m in Italy, how can you escape all of that? I then rewrote the scene and tried to get rid of the meandering prose. My protagonist fussed about the dilemmas facing her as the flowers did wave in the mild wind, without much comment on my part. Yuck. It didn’t feel the same.
I am not proposing that we write the flowery excessive lines that make one want to cringe. I am proposing that we allow our readers to join us on our adventure. And, that takes adjectives and adverbs to differentiate the average from the extraordinary.
When you write and then edit, do you find that you need to expunge the descriptors? Do your characters “think” outloud so your readers follow the train of thought? How do you create smell, taste, touch, fear, anxiety, desperation? Are there words that keep reappearing in your text that over time lose their punch?