“The Overuse of Adjectives, Adverbs, Exclamations, Oh My”

Posted October 5th, 2011 in Uncategorized / 2 comments

I went to a writing event at the Ovitt Family Community Library in Ontario a while back. At this event Barbara DeSantis talked about “The Top Ten Mistakes Writers Make.” During her thirty year career in the book industry, Barbara has provided services in marketing, promotion, event planning, manuscript review, editing, and writing.  She has also worked with many major publishing houses. So, suffice it so say, she knows what she’s talking about when it comes to what publishers hate to see in the manuscripts they read. This post is dedicated to only one of the mistakes writers so often make.

Warning: Though what you are about to read are great rules to follow when writing your piece of fiction, remember that some rules are meant to be broken when it can be done correctly. So these tips are not ironclad rules, simply suggestions that you should try to follow often to improve the saleability of your manuscript.

The Adjective:
You need to pick your adjectives carefully. Most often they add nothing to your writing. When choosing an adjective, pick the one that is most important to the image you are trying to convey. You could use the word “pretty,” but what does pretty really mean? It is too vague. Describe how someone is pretty, don’t just state it.

You can also just as easily replace your nouns or noun-phrases with stronger ones that can stand alone without the adjective. These type of words tend to be less commonly used and create better visual images.

Adjectives: The scared, little girl ran into the house.
No Adjectives: The girl screamed in terror as she reached for the doorknob no taller than herself and escaped into the house.

Remember: adding more adjectives just weakens writing. But when you do use them, try to use the uncommon ones instead of the overused ones like good, bad, or beautiful.

Also be careful of redundancy. Don’t say “large mountain.” We can guess that the mountain is large since it’s implied in the word.

The Adverb:
Try to eliminate as many adverbs as possible. Adverbs often end in -ly, like quickly or slowly. Readers do not want to wade through these words for it slows down the story. Say “unique,” not “very unique.” Also be careful of redundancy. Don’t say “yelled loudly” when “yelled” means the same thing.

Just follow the same rules with adverbs as with adjectives and your writing will improve.
The Exclamation Mark:
When exclamations are used to often, they lose their effect. Emotion should be reflected in the writing, not by a punctuation mark at the end of the sentence. Punctuation marks may tell us someone is yelling, but the readers want to figure that out themselves by real content.

Hope this helps.


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2 Responses to ““The Overuse of Adjectives, Adverbs, Exclamations, Oh My””

    • Jennifer L. Bielman

      Thanks. I have so many other writing tips to share, since I go to writing workshops and events so often, but I just can’t seem to sit down and write them out at the moment. I have to get to it soon.

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