You know adverbs right? The little descriptors that end in ly like badly, imperceptibly, merrily, angrily. Everybody uses them in their writing, but not so much in their day to day speech. Why is that? Well because adverbs are narrative shortcuts, and we tend to be much more adept at describing great detail via spoken word rather than written language. It’s just the natural way humans speak. Does that mean adverbs are okay to use when in the throes of composition. No. Absolutely not, and here’s why. As I said above, adverbs are narrative shortcuts. Ways to describe something without going into detail. When I read a manuscript that’s chock full of the little buggers it conveys one of two things to me. Either the writer is lazy, or isn’t confidant that the reader will understand what they are trying to say. Take this example using adverbs.
" Jim broke his arm, and it hurt badly. "
My lord is that bad huh? Now take a look at this version.
" Jim slammed into the ground harder than he had on the previous attempt. His skateboard somersaulted over his head, and came crashing down, right into the bridge of his nose. the pain was immense, and he could already feel hot liquid in his throat, and the sickening taste of copper. It hurt, that was certain, but the pain was swiftly replaced by something even more excruciating. His leg, which had seemed fine the moment he landed, was now vibrant with pain, so much so that his eyes began to oscillate between brilliant white stars, and a creeping grayness on the outskirts of his vision. There was no doubt in his mind that his leg was broken, but a quick look at his shin, and the large horrendous lump bulging out if the side would have quelled any he might have had. "
See how much better, and entertaining that is? It’s not going to win you a Hugo, or Pulitzer, but it’s much more pleasing to the eye, and with only one adverb.
Remember to find the right balance of detail in your narration. Too little, and the reader feels lost, too much, and you’re doing all the work for them.
It’s only your job to tell the reader that there is a red vase with gold trim sitting on an antique side table. It is the readers job ( and entertainment ) to decide whether it’s a flower vase or decorative one. Whether it’s Garnet, or Crimson. The reader determines whether it’s a filigree trim, or a simple solid one, and if the table is Oak, or mahogany.
The exception of course is if these details are integral to the plot. Perhaps the vase needs to be Garnet because it reminds one of the characters of a particular shade of lipstick his deceased wife used to wear.
All in all, don’t worry about adding too much detail. Remember to write with the door closed for your first draft. Write for you, and no one else. Once you’re finished, then you can open your study door, and begin your revisions.
Good luck to you all in whatever creative venture you choose. Just remember, Passion, and persistence are the only two tools you need to succeed creatively.
I’ll leave you with my favorite passage from The Elements Of Style by William Strunk, and E.B. White. It’s changed the way I write permanently ( See what I did there. )
" Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. "