Saturday, October 15, 2011

Dump Day – Adjectives

A very hip writer friend, Linda Grimes, posts a weekly Hump Day laugh. I've decided to honor her tradition with a Dump Day post.

What is Dump Day?

Dump Day is my favorite day of the week. Usually a Saturday, it's the day our weekly collection of garbage and recycling is loaded and taken to, you guessed it, The Dump, or—as it has been glorified—The Waste Management Facility.

I love Dump Day. Or more accurately, I love watching my men drive away with a week's accumulation of crap and clutter. It's freeing. Neater. Cleaner. And around the house it's easy to find things that need to go—empty milk jugs, jars, and cardboard boxes of various sizes and shapes, and the heap of flyers overflowing the recycle bin; cat hair on the floor and sofa; grimy ring inside the tub; dust on the piano; smudges blurring the window. A few rags, paper towels, bucket full of cleaners, and a little elbow grease and presto-chango, my immediate environment goes from iffy to spiffy. It's not so easy to spot what needs to be cleansed from the WIP (writer-speak for Work In Progress (paper/novel he/she has been working on for months/years)). Some problems are, however, easier to identify and eliminate. Like adjectives.

Just like too much sweetly sticky syrup turns a toasty crisp hotcake to soggy gooey mush, an overabundance of adjectives smothers prose. What are adjectives? Words that describe a noun. Sweetly. Sticky. Toasty. Crisp. Soggy. Gooey.

Some adjectives are useful: Dirty window. Finger-smudged window. Dirty could be anything from mud-splattered to blood-caked. Finger-smudged clarifies. Overuse of adjectives, however, distracts:

The frightened girl's terrified and lonely sobs echoed loudly through the dark, scary, creepy, cold, pine and moss-scented forest inhabited by wily coyotes, big bears, stealthy cougars, and shaggy wolves…


The girl's sobs rang through the forest with the sweet clarity of a dinner bell, inviting all manner of fanged night walker to a tender feast.

Regardless of form—business letter or epic fantasy novel—extraneous adjectives hobble rather than liberate. Be ruthless. Dig, sort, and toss out distracting description; polish your prose and let your true message shine through.

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. –Leonardo da Vinci


Linda G. said...

I love "Dump Day"!

And I love your pancake analogy, too--great illustration of the concept.

(For some reason, twenty-five of your posts just showed up in my Google Reader. I don't know where they were before. Hiding from me, I guess. *grin*)

Deborah said...

Bizarre. I wrote this a year ago. But hey, I'm happy to be read anytime. *g*

Take care,