Saturday, June 26, 2010

To Describe or Not to Describe

Quote:  "I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English - it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them - then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice."
- Letter from Mark Twain to D. W. Bowser, 20 March 1880

Do you ever find yourself reading like a writer? I do. Sometimes, the writer in me seriously gets in the way of a good story. I'll be reading along and come across ten to twelve adjectives in a paragraph. I can handle two or three, but then I've had enough. Not to mention the overuse of the adverbs! I once read a very popular book, and no, I will not mention the title. However, I counted 23 adverbs on one page alone!

Ex: On a steamy hot summer evening in south Texas the temperatures can hover at a sticky, muggy, 80 degrees. As the blistering bright sun creeps lazily towards the horizon, the continuous piercing screeches of the katydids noisily ring out in a chaotic chorus. The luscious aroma of the giant saucer-shaped magnolia flowers lingers heavily in the air, flirting wildly with the musky scent of the wild roses. A plum streak of sky is all that is left on the western horizon. Darkness and all the mystery it beholds, forcefully creeps into every vulnerable open space of the land, allowing the dangerous night creatures to roam about freely.

Okay, have you had enough? I have. There's no doubt about it. A summer night in south Texas is down right hot! The magnolias smell delicious, as do the roses. And, in the forest near my house, it can get damn dark come nightfall. But to have to go through all that? Not necessary. You may or may not agree with me and that's alright. We all have a right to our own opinions.

I think Mr. Twain said it perfectly earlier. There I go again, using an adverb. That's all I have to say about that.


  1. I enjoyed this example.

  2. As a writer, I've read umpteen books on writing, all of them admonishing against too adjectives and absolutely no adverbs. And yet...a lot of published books are full of them. Your example is from a published book. It seems to me that only writers of writing books hate adjectives and adverbs. Agents, publishers, and readers don't even notice them.

  3. Thanks for your insight, Robin. As a fellow writer, I value your words. I wasn't exactly clear in my post. The book I was referring to happened to be an entirely different source from my example. The example above, I pulled directly out from under my cap as I was posting. The book I mentioned, including 23 adverbs on one page, is far too popular today to even copy and paste an example from. Someone would've guess it right off the bat! So, I made something up quickly to use as an example.

    I agree that authors of writing books despise adjectives and adverbs. They clearly state NOT to use them or overuse them. I don't understand it either, because a lot of the bestselling novels out there are full of them.

    Maybe I need to get my nose out of the "technique" books (I've read at least 15 in the past two months) and just write.

    I loved hearing from you! Thanks for visiting my blog. Hope your writing adventures are going well.