Empty Adjectives and Actionless Verbs

“Show, don’t tell.” That’s the admonition from the experts whether you’re writing songs, Chekov shownovels, short stories, or memoir. For example, adjectives are descriptors, but some are “empty” and don’t provide information that shows us anything new; they do not let the reader experience the moment. When you describe a flower or woman as pretty or gorgeous, you’re saying nothing except that neither the flower nor the woman is ugly. You’re not saying in what way the woman or flower is pretty. Show the beauty, don’t tell it. Paint a word picture. You can describe a flower as having sea- shell pink petals that form a perfect outward spiral, touched with sparkling diamond droplets from the early morning dew and swaying on slender prickly stems toward the earth from the weight of the saucer-sized blooms. Vivid. Now the reader can visualize the flower and decide what pretty is, whereas, using just the word “pretty” presents nothing for the reader to grasp and see. Similarly, by using adjectives such as large, tall, short, young, thin, great, and the like, you say very little. How large? How tall? Thin compared to what? Thin like a telephone pole or thin like a starved fashion model? Young like a teen or young like a twenty-something? Great in what way? Enormous? Famous? It’s the same with verbs. They can be descriptors as well, relieving the writerstrut from having to use adverbs to enhance the verb. Think of a child walking  down a sidewalk. Borrrring! What if s/he sashayed instead? Different picture? Strolled. Jived. Strode. Dawdled. Marched. Stomped. Strutted. Staggered. Skulked. Tiptoed. The reader’s mind sees what the child is doing and in what way. Each of imagesthose verbs is a story in itself. The child may be showing off, frightened, angry, determined, injured, tired, bored. Instead of saying, The boy looked scared as he said good night to his friends, show it  visually. Show it by the way the he carries himself. Is he crying? Sweating? Immobilized? Facial expression? Fists? Bent over? Hiding? Hoodie pulled up? Tipoeing? Looking over his shoulder? There are endless ways to show a scared child other than just saying it. I find enormous satisfaction, especially when I’m re-writing, to find just the perfect verb to replace a boring, overused, non-desriptive one. Try avoiding empty adjectives and actionless verbs. Show, don’t tell. Your writing will soar!


About writersandy

Writer, Gardener, Crafter
This entry was posted in Writing, Writing Inspiration and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Empty Adjectives and Actionless Verbs

  1. Reblogged this on Robin of Rockridge's Blog and commented:
    Here’s a great shared blog post from my writer friend Sandy Baker. She also writes primarily for children.

  2. writersandy says:

    Thanks for the re-blog, Robin, and continuing commentary. I always appreciate support from another writer. These are two of my writing pet peeves!

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