The Importance of Choosing Adjectives

It’s important, or integral to the success of your work.

“…more specific language exists…”

In many private editing jobs, I have to remind clients that more specific language exists, and it’s okay to use new and different descriptors in each paragraph. Manuscript after manuscript, clients repeated the same non-committal, tired, and useless adjectives with the fervor of novice writers; faithfully and often.

One recent example went something like this:

“Offending term, ‘Very nice’…”

Me–Really? We can do better.

Client–What’s wrong with it?

Me—Well, it doesn’t tell me anything that you intend to convey. By using the phrase, “very nice,” are you commenting on the atmosphere? If so, was it nice as in elegant or nice as in inviting; or did that refer to some other atmosphere? By “very,” are you referring to the accurate display of the niceness, or perhaps the elaborate décor?

They took a few suggestions, at that point.

Most of us have used the phrase, “very nice,” at one point or another. Typically, it’s use indicates, at best, a nonchalant attitude toward your subject. At worst, boredom. In typical use, this kind of empty phrase is more a conversation filler, like nodding or humming to indicate you are still engaged with the speaker. In written work, particularly fiction, the use of such shallow, filler phrasing tells a reader, whether they realize it or not, that they should not be interested in this topic or story.

“Interest comes from connecting the reader to the words on the page,…”

…so much so that they stop seeing the words and begin to see the action, the romance, the gleam in the eye of the savvy lady who just found the missing…

<.< Ahem…

As I was saying, shallow descriptions do nothing to paint the scene, waft the fragrant breeze, or induce goose flesh at the crawling tingle of a reader’s spine. If the author is lucky, these non-descript adjectives will stimulate the reader to ask the questions. However, it’s still up to the author to provide the answers.

Use a thesaurus if you have to; use better adjectives because you want to.

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