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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sin and Syntax - how to craft wickedly effective prose

This week I'm sharing some bits with you from one of my favorite writing books: Sin and Syntax by Constance Hale.

Today I'm going share the chapter on adjectives.

The Bones: Hale calls adjectives consorts, "never attending a party alone, preferring to hook themselves on the arm of a sturdy noun." Think about that house we talked about earlier. Calling it a Gothic Manse makes it much more interesting but we can liven it up even more by using adjectives to make that Gothic manse more distinctive. Does it have a mansard roof perhaps?

The Flesh: I love Hale's example of how to make our adjectives work for us like our dynamic verbs. Why use yellow, she asks, "given the options: bamboo, butter, canary, chamois, dandelion, jonquil, lemon, maize, mimosa, mustard, ochre, old gold, popcorn, saffron, sauterne, turmeric, and yolk?" Why indeed.

Cardinal Sins: Here Hale warns us against adjectives, almost suggesting we heed Mark Twain's advice to kill all adjectives wherever we find them. But no, she amends, "...kill most of them - then the rest will be invaluable."

Carnal Pleasures: Hale finishes here with a reminder that while less is more in the case of adjectives, the right one can make all the difference, as in the case of Absolut Vodka and its "endless memorable permutations."

What's your take on adjectives? Do you follow the less is more rule?


Leigh Caron said...

Interesting topic. I'm aware when I use adjectives. I don't stress in a first or second draft, but later go back and find better descriptions. Sometimes though, if a quick adjective works rather than slowing the pace of some copy I leave it alone. And with dialog, if my characters use adjectives - because most people do in casual conversations - I leave them alone.

Liz A. said...

I don't tend to be wordy in description, so I don't worry too much about adjectives. At the moment, at least.