>> Monday, May 3, 2010
I love adjectives. I know, I know, they're not "in." I don't care. There's nothing wrong with using descriptive verbs and nouns -- I'm all over that, too -- but I like adjectives as well. Why?
One can write with minimal adjectives, admittedly, but adjectives enable one to be more precise than not. My father was a demon for precision and I learned to speak precisely (that means adjectives and adverbs, but adverbs I'm saving for tomorrow). And I have, you'll be pleased to know, turned around and tortured my daughter the same way (Four year old brings me a pair of socks, "Put these on, Mommy." "Oh, darling, these will never fit." "Put them on me."). Of course, now that's she's a teenager, she more than pays me back. She could be a lawyer now on her ability to make a point on a less than any fuzz on ANY sanction or decree. (Technically, you said I had to come home by ten. I left before ten, even if I didn't reach home until 10:20).
A laugh or chuckle can be evil, deranged, derisive, shy, uncomfortable, boisterous, relieved, etc. One can use giggle or titter, but use is limited to character and situations. That distinction isn't always necessary (XX tells a joke and his date laughs), but it can be helpful when the type of laugh is giving us some insight into a character or situation. Here's what I mean:
"I can't believe you did that!" she exclaimed. She was surprised at his laugh.
"I can't believe you did that!" she exclaimed. She was surprised at his embarrassed laugh.vs.
"I can't believe you did that!" she exclaimed. She was surprised at his derisive laugh.vs.
"I can't believe you did that!" she exclaimed. She was surprised at his relieved laugh.vs.
"I can't believe you did that!" she exclaimed. She was surprised at his hollow laugh.vs.
"I can't believe you did that!" she exclaimed. She was surprised at his vicious laugh.
Now, this is not the best written pair of sentences, but how different the situations seems by just adding the adjective. In the first example, we really know nothing about the situation. Is the "he" a good guy, a bad guy? Did he run across the road to rescue a boy from a runaway car? Did he kiss her when she thought he was just a friend? Did he throw his pregnant daughter from the house without a dime? Truth is, there's no way of knowing from just the snippet.
Truthfully, we can't tell on the other snippets either, but we get (hopefully) a much better sense of what happened and who he is at least.
Now, obviously, you can add more words around it and you need to to tell a good story. But, especially with short stories and even with novels, every word should add something or it should go. Even if we describe "his" daring rescue, his embarrassed laugh tells us something about who he is without saying "He was a modest individual, uncomfortable with her gratitude." I've said it all with "embarrassed."
My point is adjectives can add nuance, color and flavor. That doesn't mean you have to paint in every aspect, describe every leaf on the wallpaper or each action in excruciating detail, but I say not to eschew adjectives when they serve you well. Adjectives are part of the arsenal writers use, and I say use them if it makes the story better.