Adverbs. Adjectives. Modifiers and descriptors, those reprehensible, irresponsible, horrifyingly obvious denizens of the dictionary that lurk in the dark corners of everyman’s prose. Their very presence can result in overblown, florid paragraphs full of creamy blue eyes and rich, dark silken drapes. In our writing groups and at seminars we aspiring authors are urged to create that lean, mean prose that keeps the interest of the reader. We are constantly told that too many descriptive words interfere with the modern reader’s short attention span.
Without a doubt, that concept is true! Too much seasoning can gag the reader, and we don’t want that!
But what happens when you cut these modifiers out of your work completely?
I recently read a tale that was written by a new indie author. Author X has really taken to heart the new concept of ‘no adverbs and adjectives.’ I found that the story had some merit. The idea behind the story intrigued me, and I was curious as to where the author was going with that idea. Despite being curious, I didn’t enjoy the reading of it. The flatness of the prose was boring and it was work trying to get to the exciting parts. Instead of an adventure that unfolded in the way that I had expected given the pitch on the back of the book, what I got was a simple statement of fact, told in the first person, and the bald story did not excite me at all. The book had been carefully edited and there were none of the obvious errors that I personally deal with in my own work, but this promising tale was told in a way that was as flat as a cold pancake and just as exciting.
Nevertheless, I continued to read it for mixed reasons, mentally re-editing it all the way and adding some zip to it. A little description here, perhaps a little more explanation there, and this story would have been a great book. As it is, I will not recommend it, because it is a boring book and the end did not justify the effort that I put in to reading it.
Yet, I find that I am still thinking of what a great concept that author had, if only they had been brave enough to tell the story as if it were a story and not a grocery list! I hope that an editor will take this author in hand and bring that tale out in the way it needs to be told.
As a reader, this happens to me me quite frequently. I have read, on average, four books a week and for the last two weeks I have not read a book that I feel comfortable in recommending. I have two book review blogs on hold, waiting for something worth talking about, and I am stymied. But all is not lost! I will resort to discussing some of my old favorites if need be, and I do have two excellent possibilities in my kindle now, and If things go as well as they look right now, I will soon have something to ‘write home about’!
But, back to my treatise on modifiers – There is a reason that adjectives and adverbs exist. They add flavor to our language, spicing up a flat wall of words. Too much is too much and to0 little is not enough! We are looking for that happy medium where the prose flows in such a way that the reader does not notice it.
Yes I did say that.
If you are a poet, then of course you want the reader to notice your prose. But if you are writing a novel you want the reader to live your story and react to the ideas and emotions that you are conveying instead of stumbling over limpid pools of velvet blue eyes or falling flatly into skeletal accounts of boredom. We want to get the reader immersed in the story, and make them forget the real world for a short time. When that happens, we have a great tale.
I am an author, and I love my job, but more than that I am a reader and I LIVE to read! Every time I open a new book it is with the hope that this book will be the memorable experience that my first time reading J.R.R.Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Hobbit was. I am never daunted by the less than stellar books that pop up because for every 4 bad books that I read, I will be blessed with discovering a true classic.
Perhaps that classic will have been written by one of these authors whose freshman efforts are not yet praisworthy. Everyone starts somewhere and everyone grows as an author as long as they keep writing. No matter what, I will still be searching for that ‘aha’ moment!