The Taboo of Adjectives

Adjectives.  In high school we are are taught of their wonder, told they add to the writing by giving details and description.  We’re told that they are our friends and should be embraced.

Yet, as we enter into the world of publication, we learn otherwise.  We spend an untold amount of hours editing that first novel, only to be told its weak because we embraced the adjective.  In the publishing world these ‘ly’ words are frowned upon.  They weaken our writing and we must use them sparingly if at all.

As writers, words are our greatest tool, our creative gift and our deepest bane.  We strive for perfection, yet it’s always just out of reach.  And as we dive into the world of publication we learn that most of what we thought we knew was wrong.  To make ourselves stronger writers, we must forget everything we learned in high school.

But, we can’t just take out all our adjectives.  We must construct stronger sentences and vivid descriptions without them.  If we simply removed them all from our writing, we’d be left with dull text.  It would be boring to read, even if the story is exquisite.  And sometimes, this is difficult to do.  Yet, if we are to get anywhere in the publishing world, we must try.

I can’t be sure why I thought to post this today.  I guess it’s what flowed from my fingers pre-coffee.  I’m not any type of publishing expert, except that I’ve spent hours upon hours searching the web for anything that would help me improve my writing.  I’ve sat in on only one lecture on writing, talked one on one with the writer/speaker and that makes me far from an expert.  Yet, one thing I do know beyond any shadow of a doubt, adjectives are not our friends anymore.  A whole group of words are considered taboo.

As a lover of words this saddens me, as a writer it challenges me.  I should go and reword my sentence here that contains that dreaded adjective.  But I’ve only had half a cup of coffee, so I say, let it be.

On a side note, I have folders upon folders with all the information I’ve gathered over the years.  If you find this layman’s take on the ins and outs of publishing rules helpful, let me know and I’ll gladly share with you what all I’ve learned.

Now write on writers of the world.  Write on.


About adsimons

I'm about to embark on the wonder journey of publishing. Come join me as I struggle to get it right, land an agent and get published. All while raising my daughter alone and fighting just to keep my head over water.
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2 Responses to The Taboo of Adjectives

  1. EJ Lavoie says:

    Adjectives are not the enemy. They are a distraction.
    The most important word in a sentence is the verb. The next most important is the noun. As in subject-verb.
    The first sentence of my just-published e-book novel is:
    The man dropped from the train when the sun was crowning the mountain to the east.
    Note: Not a single adjective. The first three words are subject-verb. There is one more verb, and there are four more nouns.
    I emphasize to you the verb, because it is the engine of the sentence.
    This is all very preachy, so you may suspect I am a teacher. Was for 35 years. Sorry if I sound patronizing, but that’s any teacher’s primary vice.
    The sentence is not something I consciously constructed. It is a product of pure habit. You have to practice the focus on subect-verb until it is habit.
    Just keep practicing, full steam ahead, and damn the adjectives.
    And then the adjectives will assume their rightful places in your sentences.
    Thanks for the opportunity to preach . . . er, I mean “teach”.

    • adsimons says:

      Thank you for clearing that up for me! I was aiming to explain what you pointed out “Adjectives are not the enemy. They are a distraction.” As I wrote this without a full cup of coffee this morning, my message got all buggered up. So thank you. And feel free to stop by and preach, er teach, any time you want.

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