I’ll be the first to admit that I’m one of those people who frequently overwrites. I just can’t get enough of chunky adjectives, hyperbole, laying-it-on-thick, over dramatisation, theatrical adverbs and big, fat, fluffy sentences that you can really get your teeth into.
I was looking at a blog by Larry Brooks on how to write the perfect novel (because that’s what I’d like to do) and I downloaded his 101 Slightly Unpredictable Tips for Novelists and Screenwriters. One of his tips is to try removing all the adjectives. Naturally, my first reaction was to scoff: A story with no adjectives? That’s like a prog-rock band without the keyboards or synths. It could never work.
In the name of science (I am a sci-fi writer, after all), I decided to put this to the test. So, I’ve taken a small excerpt from my book and removed the unnecessary adjectives. Let’s see what happens:
When he got back to his feet, however, his right hand crossed his body to grip the hilt of his sword. As that unique, swishing whisper of steel-on-scabbard rang through the clamour and the blade flashed into existence, the pub went instantly silent as the other officers present took a sharp, collective intake of breath. This ugly affair had now gone beyond a simple, amusing bar brawl and fast became dangerous for all concerned. Lieutenant Lee decided it had to stop.
When he got back to his feet, however, his right hand crossed his body to grip the hilt of his sword. As that sound of steel-on-scabbard rang through the clamour and the blade flashed into existence, the pub went silent as the other officers present took a(n) intake of breath. This affair had now gone beyond a bar brawl and had became dangerous for all concerned. Lieutenant Lee decided it had to stop.
Removed adjectives: unique; swishing; instantly; sharp; collective; ugly; simple; amusing; fast.
Alright, I admit it. That’s not too bad.
I’ll also admit this isn’t one of my favourite paragraphs in the book; I just chose it because it worked well for my experiment, having a good dose of adjectives sprinkled all over it.
So yes, there is something to be said for removing these words, and I like the paragraph in its fresh, unsullied, uncomplicated, stripped-down, bare-bones, Spartan, simple and adjective-free state. Plus my wife also thinks it’s better – and she’s right about most things.
I do feel that, right or wrong, heavy use of adjectives is part of my writing style and to mess with one’s own writing style is sacrosanct, isn’t it?
Nevertheless, and not withstanding any of the above, I think it’s a mixture of both that will make the final cut. While I may be still be sat the fence regarding the amputation of adjectives, I do feel that the exercise will improve the paragraph, and that can only be a good thing, right?
I’d be interested to hear what you thought of the difference in the two paragraphs. Do I really need those adjectives? Do they enhance the end result, or does removing them allow the reader more space to form their own picture of what is happening?
Thanks for reading.