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Monday, January 16, 2012

Musings on Adjectives and Adverbs: Don't be Hatin'!

If you’ve learned anything about me by now, you know I like descriptors. I tend to go against the grain of conformity and feel a slight twinge when I hear people bashing my favorite parts of speech. Unlike most writers, adjectives and adverbs are my friends. I realize some people might now say, “But Rachel, those just clutter your writing.” Sure, I agree that’s possible. I approach descriptors as I would real friends. There’s no sense in collecting a gaggle of people to follow me around for no good reason. I choose them carefully.
That doesn’t detract from the blind hatred people express in their direction. Nouns may be the popular kid on the page, but they can’t survive without my friends. I defy anyone to explain the difference between a person, place or thing without adjectives. The questions nouns inherently create must be answered by descriptors. They’re what make your story interesting, your characters unique and your setting realistic. Otherwise, you would end up with some cave drawing of an epic tale:
Man asks other men to protect ring. They cross lands to a mountain. The ring is discarded.
Sure, it gets to the bare bones of the plot, but would you really want to read LotR diluted to such simple terms? I think not. Adjectives are necessary to add flavor and spice to nouns.
I will reiterate, select your descriptors with care. Don’t throw them into your writing willy-nilly. The last thing you want to create is confusion for your reader. Adverbs can sometimes be redundant when explaining verbs as in a sentence like:
Frodo quietly whispered, “Help!”
Readers know what an action looks or sounds like. Repeating the manner in which it takes place is counterintuitive. However, if you were to say:
Frodo whispered loudly, “Help!”
Then, I would side with the descriptor. One would expect a whisper to be quiet, but in this case it establishes a specific type of utterance that clarifies the scene.
I argue that the same confusion in a scene can be created by withholding descriptors as well. It becomes a fine-line to toe in order to successfully use adjectives and adverbs. Without descriptors, stories would never have evolved. Writers would not be able to create their own voice. Prose would have remained stagnant, unable to reach its rich and diverse potential that people create today.  I wish writers would reconcile with descriptors instead of hating them for adding “nothing” to prose. Deep down you know that’s simply not true. They’re a crucial piece of your arsenal. Seriously.


  1. I enjoyed this post! I completely agree, no need to throw descriptors out completely. I love your examples too. This post really makes me think about my own writing.

    1. I'm glad you enjoyed it, Jase! Always pleased to have another descriptor-lover aboard!