Kill your adjectives

Helmet

Here’s a bit of winning advice from Ryan Lanz over at A Writer’s Path:

A lot of new writers–I was certainly guilty of this, myself–think that every sentence needs to be a colorful tapestry of words strung together, and that everything needs to “pop” to hold the reader’s attention. Why else do most new writers try to think of anything other than the simple “said” as a dialogue tag (more on dialogue tags here)? I was quick to discover that there is beauty in a short, bleak sentence. In fact, after a string of medium to long sentences, they are often my favorite ones to write.

Ryan is right on target. Consider Rembrandt’s Man in a Golden Helmet. The stark background not only sets off the dazzling helmet, but subtly  highlights a face full of equally dark memories. The contrast actually supplements the unity of the composition.

This is a lesson I have to keep learning over and over. Back in my early days as a fiction scribbler, I couldn’t get published. After making a perfect pest of myself quizzing editors why they didn’t accept my submissions, one finally told me my descriptions were getting in the way of the plot and characterization. (Maybe that came from overdosing on T.C. Boyle and H.P. Lovecraft.) Anyway, the perfect tonic for my affliction was in reading lots of Elmore Leonard and Ernest Hemingway. I even typed out Hemingway’s texts to see what it felt like to produce such sentences, and started trying to write the next sentence. My acceptance rate bloomed – though I still get occasional rejections. That’s just the way it is.

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2 thoughts on “Kill your adjectives”

  1. “I even typed out Hemingway’s texts to see what it felt like to produce such sentences, and started trying to write the next sentence.” I can entirely relate to that! I am in this precise phase now! However, I am trying to write and expound from the sentences of multiple authors. Reading your post I reckon I should stick to just one or two of them.

    Like

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