Adjectives Are Not Your Friend

Actually, they are. Sparingly. Want to know why I am not a fan of most romance novels (aside from the usually poor technical writing)? Adjectives! Adjectives to describe the blue-white clothing on the heavily-muscled man’s broadening back (…). Description for the sake of description. As a reader there are two responses: “Wow! This must be a good writer because he uses so many fancy words.” OR “This is driving me insane. I’m not impressed and I just want to get to the next sentence without wading through a jungle of words.”

Sadly, I thank most authors, especially fledgling writers, fall under the assumption that the best writer’s in the world pad their prose with useless descriptors. In reality, less is more. Read the authors that have withstood the test of time and you will not find the surplus of flowery language found in most fiction today. Mark Twain even made fun of this practice in his short story, “A Double-Barreled Detective Story.” He writes:

“It was a crisp and spicy morning in early October. The lilacs and laburnums, lit with the glory-fire of autumn, hung burning and flashing in the upper air, a fairy bridge provided by kind Nature for the wingless wild things that have their homes in the tree-tops and would visit together; the larch and he pomegranate flung their purple an yellow flames in brilliant broad splashes along the slanting sweep of the woodland; the sensuous fragrance of innumerable deciduous flowers rose upon the swooning atmosphere; far in the empty sky a solitary esophagus slept upon motionless wing; everywhere brooded stillness, serenity, and the peace of God.”

An entire paragraph of nonsense. Yet, he goes on to show published responses to the passage from readers who admired his description, but didn’t quite understand the words. Especially, the reference to an “esophagus” in the sky. Likely, Response #1 readers who didn’t get the joke.

In good writing, if there is a lengthy bit of description it has a purpose. Writers have a romance with words, that is what makes them writers, but even the most happy couples will support the old adage of having too much of a good thing. So, please, for the sake of your readership, less PDAs. Thank you.