Thursday, October 27, 2011

Modifier Mayhem

A few days ago I printed out some of my writing to begin the task of editing (ugh yay!). The first thing I did was take two different coloured highlighters and highlight all the adjectives and adverbs.

After its presentation, the quickest and easiest way to reject a manuscript is to look for the overuse, or misuse, of adjectives and adverbs. (The First Five Pages, by Noah Lukeman)

I now seem to have green and orange everywhere!

  • shadowed corner
  • steady breathing
  • cool evening breeze
  • prickly warmth
  • sleeping form
  • stinging pain
  • scaly skin
  • move quickly
  • lift gently
  • tightly
  • casually
  • internally
  • clumsily

To remedy these I can try to
a) find more unusual adjectives and adverbs
b) strengthen my nouns and verbs so that I don't need to add adjectives and adverbs
c) use comparisons

But not all of these adjectives and adverbs are "bad", right? I mean, come on. Sometimes you have to describe a noun with another word. And sometimes the only way to clarify how something is done, is with one of those pesky -ly words.

Am I right? Wrong? Banished to writers' purgatory?


Carol Riggs said...

I think PLAIN nouns only would be awfully boring. Some writers just have more adjectives in their prose as a matter of style and voice. Adverbs?--a bit different. You definitely want to sprinkle those in, and use them only if they add a meaning not obvious by the context.

Usually a more vibrant verb can be substituted for an adverb--and the words of a dialogue can convey the mood (casually or whatever). "Move quickly" could be dashed or skittered or hurried, etc. Adverbs usually Tell rather than Show. Have fun!

You have a great start, highlighting all those words! Just make sure they are ALL totally necessary. :)

Rachel Morgan said...

Carol, thank you for your advice! I guess it's a good thing then that I have more green (adjectives) than orange (adverbs) in my manuscript :-)

Sarah Pearson said...

They have no place in your ms - except when they do :-)

Helpful, aren't I? ;-)

Michael Offutt said...

Don't edit to death. It sounds like you could really use an editor if you are questioning what is good and bad. My out another pair of eyes to read your manuscript. They can tell you where stuff needs improving.

Cally Jackson said...

Banished to writer purgatory! Hehe, just kidding. I think some are fine as long as you're not over-using them. Figuring out where that line is - that's the tricky part!

I find that sometimes a strong verb doesn't suit the teen voice while a verb/adverb combo does. So then it's a choice of 'better' writing or getting the voice right. I usually opt for the voice. Not sure that helps but thought I'd share anyway. :-)

The Golden Eagle said...

I agree--they have to have been created for some reason, right?

Kari Marie said...

There's a place and a time for every word. The hard part is figuring out where and when that is.

I'm struggling with the same thing. Good luck.

Mark Murata said...

Noah Lukeman's book is a great guide, but it is somewhat exaggerated. I think he is reacting against the typical beginning writer who throws in too many modifiers. You look like you're well on the way to a more disciplined approach. For an opposing view in favor of long sentences and interesting modifiers, see Prof. Landon's work at
His books are available on

Jessica Therrien said...

Don't over analyze. I started to do that because everything you read says no adverbs, no adjectives, don't use was or is, don't do this, don't do that....after a while, you've ruled your way out of being yourself. Open up one of your favorite books, or a really popular book (Twilight!) may begin to change your mind about getting rule crazy. A writer's voice should be free of so many rules. It drives me nuts. I know I'm ranting, but I like "cool evening breeze" and "steady breathing"...don't go overboard. Sorry. I'm done, lol.