Here are some points to consider when you plan your characters and settings and write those first descriptions:
Overused Modifiers Don’t Register
The beautiful girlIf you think your character is “beautiful”, show your readers what that means to you. Do you mean “inner beauty” that shines through and gives her a deeper radiance, or do you mean “superficial, airbrushed looks”?
The tall, dark, handsome man
The lovely day
The quaint town
Describe what it is about her that readers need to judge her on. Here you, as a writer, give up control in exchange for drawing your reader in more deeply. Allowing readers to make up their own minds gives them ownership in the story, which in turn makes them care more about the outcome.
Not every reader will decide your character is beautiful, but ask yourself whether it matters that the reader feels exactly the same way you do. If one reader decides she’s smart and tough, another thinks she’s kind, and another picks up that she tries hard to understand concepts that she finds difficult – at least your readers have an opinion about her.
The Rhythm of Modifiers Can Be Jarring
You can unintentionally create a cadence with too many modifiers in a paragraph. This is especially true for two adjectives before a noun – it always reminds me of the opening beat for Queen’s We Will Rock You.
The tall, blond man opened the big, wooden box, revealing a strange, red shape on a smooth, satin cushion.
Try to train yourself to notice adjectives when you write them so that you can demand stronger writing from yourself. Asking yourself how you want your reader to react to a character could lead to the development of new and important subplots. And all because you removed an adjective.
Do you notice adjectives more when you write, or when you read a book by someone else?
Elsa Neal is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia. Visit her website to download her free mini report on the Ten Most Frustrating Grammar Rules and How to Remember Them. Read up more on Grammar and Punctuation or browse through her Resources for Writers.