Strunk and White may have said it best in The Elements of Style when they advised, “Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs.”
The inclination to overuse adverbs and adjectives, which is closely related to the “Show, Don’t Tell” concept (see my previous blog), is easy to do, but should be avoided.
A short sentence comprised of a few right words will have greater impact than a long sentence that includes extraneous ones. With respect to adjectives, use them only when the noun by itself isn’t enough. If the adjective doesn’t really add any value to the sentence, it will just clutter up the writing, and readers will skip over it. If readers find themselves skipping over too much text, they will question why they are reading the book.
Here are some tips I learned along the way.
Start With the Common Ones
I found a list of common adjectives and adverbs on the Internet and exported them to an Excel spreadsheet (Adverbs and Adjectives). Then I searched my manuscript for each word on the list. When I came upon one, I read the text surrounding it and determined whether it should be replaced with more effective words.
Before: The baby was adorable.
After: The baby’s wide innocent eyes, toothless grin and chubby cheeks were enough to make anyone smile.
Watch the “ly” Words
Another step I found helpful was to search my manuscript for “ly” words. In almost every case, I was able to replace them with better descriptors.
Before: She walked slowly.
After: She took her time walking to the window.
Avoid Redundant Words
Free gift — If it’s a gift, it’s free.
Serious danger — All danger is serious.
Cold snow — There is no such thing as warm snow.
The bull bellowed loudly — How else would a bull bellow?
Find the Right Word
Avoid using adjectives and adverbs when you can’t think of the right word.
Use boulder instead of huge rock.
Use stormed instead of walked angrily.