Friday, November 14, 2008

Adjectives - Love 'em and Leave 'em

"Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very;" your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be." - Mark Twain

"Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn't been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place." - William Strunk, Jr.

Still not convinced that all your carefully selected adjectives weaken the story? I dare you to dig up that paragraph you slaved over - the one with all the beautiful, flowery, descriptive words. You know the one. Make a copy and remove all the adjectives. Read both - the original and the new. Read them again. Which is stronger?

I don't know what you found, but I usually find the words are stronger when there are fewer of them. If I'm unhappy with the shorter version, I try to figure out what is wrong - and that generally turns out to be an incorrect verb, not a missing adjective.

Charlotte Phillips is the co-author of the Eva Baum Detective Series, Publicity Director for The Final Twist Writers Society and contributor to multiple blogs. Learn more about Charlotte and her books at:

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  1. I agree. Less is better.

  2. Say it ain't so. All adjectives and adverbs? Ouch!

    (But you're right, of course)

  3. I think there's a fine line, Lauri, but less is definitely more. One of the characteristics of self-published books is this sort of over-embellishment. Especially for self-published authors, good editing is a sound investment, because that critical eye can move a book from too twee to terrific.


  4. I need to follow Mark Twain's advice in blog posts and comments. I use way too many verys and greats, but I'm more careful when I'm working on a book.

  5. I had a professor in college that used the Mark Twain quote at the beginning of each course he taught. When he graded our essays, short stories and papers he would always write at the top: "Mark Twain this paper and return it to me." We always knew what that meant.

  6. Great advice.

    Jennybeans, I love that story!

  7. Well, I'm not sure about that. My word verification is "fononolo" and if that isn't a wicked cool adjective, I don't know what is!


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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