Over the next few Saturdays, I'll share what I've learned--and am still learning--from various writing books and blogs that have made a tremendous difference in my manuscripts by strengthening and simplifying my sentences. Not only how to spot weaknesses, but how to fix them as well. What's up this week? We'll start with one of the easiest mistakes to spot:
The Dreaded Adverb/Adjective
First off, let's define them:
adverb- a word used to modify a verb
adjective- a word used to modify a noun
The overuse of adverbs and adjectives is probably one of the most common mistakes new writers make. When I first started creative writing it felt natural to add in a hefty amount of description. How else will the reader know exactly how intense this action scene is? How beautiful the sunset looks? But while it felt natural to write at that time, it doesn't feel natural to read. A good manuscript should engage the reader by forcing them to use their imagination to help create the image you are outlining for them.
This isn't to say adverbs and adjectives don't have a place in a manuscript. The key is using them sparingly and appropriately. It all comes down to word choice.
The point of an adverb is to describe the verb, so if you're finding a lot of -ly words in your manuscript, you need a stronger verb.
The moose ran quickly across the field.
If the moose is running, we assume it's going to be quick. But if the verb 'ran' isn't giving the sentence the right amount of oomph, simply look for a stronger verb.
*The moose raced across the field.
*The moose galloped (do moose gallop?)across the field.
By removing the adverb, the sentence already reads tighter, and by replacing the verb with a stronger one it gives the sense of immediacy we were looking for.
Another option is to use a metaphor or simile.
The moose ran across the field like a . . .(insert clever metaphor).
But again, carefully and selectively. Too many metaphors will drag a scene down.
She stepped out into the dark, cold, rainy night.
As writers, it's our job to set the mood for scenes. But this many adjectives all at once actually makes the sentence have less impact and is telling too much, rather than showing.
First off, eliminate unnecessary adjectives. It's night, so do we really need to tell the reader it's dark? Unless your story is set during the solstice in Alaska, we're going to assume night=dark.
Now we have cold, rainy night. While technically there's nothing wrong with this sentence, we could still find better ways to show the reader the setting. Ask yourself which adjective is the most important. Is the character going for a routine trip to the grocery store? Or is she going to meet the man who's been blackmailing her for weeks? Select the adjective that will best set the atmosphere you're aiming for. You can always convey the cold by showing and not telling.
She stepped out into the rainy night. A frigid breeze tore at her jacket . . .
Spotting and cleaning up an abundance of adverbs and adjectives is an easy and quick fix. It will make for a tighter story and cleaner writing.