The Truth About Adjectives and Adverbs

By Gabrielle Sanford, Guest Writer

Grabbing your reader’s interest and keeping them intrigued through an entire story is difficult. You, as a writer, want to know you’ve dropped your reader into the middle of your world.

Whether your write fiction or non-fiction, you may have the big picture down – you have interesting yet relatable characters, a killer story, a believable setting. What else can you do to kick up your writing a notch?

Any editor or publisher will tell you that paying close attention to technicalities can go a long way. Two of these mechanics are to avoid adjectives and adverbs, which have the effect of telling your reader what’s going on. Instead, you want to show your reader what’s happening.

In other words, allow your audience to think for themselves as they read. Your writing will be more relatable, more vivid, more firsthand.

Actual Details, Not Adjectives

Adjectives such as tired, messy, and annoyed don’t build a picture in your reader’s mind. Instead, incorporating at least two of the five senses will alert your audience to pay attention to what you are writing. They’ll be able to experience the story, not just read it on a service level.

Some examples: 

            “I felt tired after practice.”--> “My muscles had turned to jelly when I walked off the soccer field.”

            “The kitchen was messy.” --> “Used pots and pans littered the kitchen counter and an      odor of rotten fruit swept through the house.”

            “The waiter was annoyed.” --> “The waiter flung our plates of food onto the table, sighing in frustration.”

Strong Verbs Don’t Need Adverbs       

Another tip is to make your verbs strong so they speak for themselves. Contrary to popular belief, adverbs weaken the verbs they are describing. Adverbs serve as a crutch for lazy and nondescript verbs to lean against. More times than not, they add nothing to your writing or your readers’ experience.

Instead, use strong, specific verbs to show action in a more vivid way. Some improved sentences:

            “He walked slowly.” --> “He ambled down the sidewalk.”

            “The girl smiled widely.” --> “Her lips curled back in a grin. He could see her teeth glisten in the light.”

            “She danced beautifully.” --> “The dancer pirouetted and glided across the stage.”

Take the last example, “She danced beautifully.” The word “beautifully” gives you a vague idea of how she danced, but not a vivid idea.

Saying that she pirouetted and glided, on the other hand, builds an actual picture in the reader’s mind. It gives your reader firsthand information of the scene, as if they were an eyewitness.

It also lets your readers conclude on their own that she’s elegant dancer, which makes the reading experience more fun.

Another way to be more vivid with verbs is by using analogies such as similes and metaphors.

Take the sentence “she danced beautifully” again. You could replace that with the simile, “She danced like a deer sliding through the trees, her forest the stage.”

Conclusion

Spend time on these little details. Adjectives and adverbs only scratch the surface. Instead, use strong verbs and vivid details to make your writing come to life. 

When you do this, your audience won’t merely be reading. They’ll feel a part of the action, experiencing the story with their own eyes and ears.   

 

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