Last month, I wrote about how undead passive verbs kill storytelling and how active verbs pump life and energy into writing. What I didn’t say—Rules of interesting story narration begin there, with the use of active verbs. What is the second rule of good narratives? The elimination of most adverbs and some adjectives.
Adverbs modify, or describe, verbs, adjectives, and other adverbs. They often end in -ly. Adverbs act as hype, propaganda; that is, the writer is trying to convince the reader to believe something. Adverbs also take away the reader’s imagination. For example, while writing dialogue, avoid sentences, like, “No,” she said very angrily. Instead of using the adverbs very (modifying adverb angrily) and angrily (modifying verb said), use description and tone of voice to express the emotion of anger. How could the above narrative be rephrased to depict anger? Let’s try this: Tired of hearing the same questions about whether she was having an affair, Connie told her husband, “No, for the last time, I’m not having an affair!” Note: In this sentence we wouldn’t need the attribution, Connie told her husband, with narrative before and after; we would know who was speaking and to whom.
While many adverbs end in -ly, some do not. Take the adverbs just, very, never, often, almost, quite a bit, better, even (and more). While more difficult to detect, with practice the adverb alarm will sound when they show up (or search for them in your word processor as I do), then you can delete them.
Adjectives modify nouns. Sometimes adjectives are needed, but make sure they are specific and powerful. In the sentence, She wore a brown coat, the adjective “brown” describes the noun “coat.” If changed to She wore a coat the color of whiskey aged to perfection, it now conveys not only the color but also adds interest (and perhaps an underlying trait of someone who knows alcohol, sparking the readers’ curiosity).
My tip: As you write, imagine going on an adventure and sending a postcard—now days, a quick email—to your BFF saying, “Wish you were here!” Then you come back home to describe your experience over a cup of coffee or a glass of that aged whiskey. You (the writer) create the image for your friend (the reader) through the sights, smells, sounds, tastes, touches you experienced. With detailed and specific descriptions like this, your friend stands in the middle of your reality.
Now, carry on. And write!