Amelia stands out from the line

Amelia stands out from the line

Amelia stands out from the line

I don’t follow recipes. I don’t like people telling me what to do. I don’t like rules. In fact, when I find one, I usually break it to see what happens – and I think this is a healthy trait in a writer. However, for the unpracticed/unpublished writer – it is important to know the rules, so you can begin breaking them…

Currently, and yes it is subject to fashion and trend, the big ‘no no’ is cramming sentences with adjectives and adverbs. A new writer will often fall in love with words and phrases and become over-enthusiastic in their application. However, overly verbose writing deadens the impact of the sentence – which defeats its purpose. So, the rule is, use adjectives but go easy and be clear.

An example of an adjective/adverb heavy sentence:

‘A dark grey, crinkled brow of solemn cloud crept sluggishly over the majestic hills that were patchily bruised with a blackish purple moss and randomly spiked with prickly yellow furze.’

There is too much going on in this sentence. Each individual image is in competition for the readers’ attention. The result is a boring blur. Think about what is necessary here. Everyone knows furze is yellow and prickly, so do you need to inform the reader of these facts? “Majestic” doesn’t really do anything here – except communicate that the hill is big, which one would assume.

I would pare the sentence to the following: ‘A cloud slugged over the hills.’

I hope you can see how ‘less is more’ here. The image is much stronger without shoehorning in all those adjectives/adverbs.

A note on adverbs:

Adverbs have a bad reputation in the literary world. Many writers avoid them completely (there’s one right there). I would suggest you use them with caution and very, very sparingly (see, another one) and never, ever with speech attribution (“she said nervously”). Adverbs like “suddenly” or “immediately” are thought of as cliché traffic lights. If something happens unexpectedly in a story, you don’t need to “flag it” to make the reader aware that this was a “sudden” action – it should be obvious. So, don’t use them.

Over reliance on adjectives and adverbs is a typical, and some would say necessary, phase for those beginning their writing journey. So, don’t worry if you recognize your own writing here. As “mistakes” go, the over use of adjectives and adverbs is a useful one, as it serves to build your vocabulary. All good writers should have this phase. Just keep calm, carry on, edit down the adjectives and remove the adverbs – and you’re on your way.

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About suehealy

Irish writer/playwright Sue Healy’s work has been supported and developed by the Abbey Theatre, the Peggy Ramsay Foundation, the Heinrich Boll Association and the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Her play ‘Brazen Strap’ ran at the King’s Head Theatre in May 2016, funded by Arts Council England. Her work has also shown at the Hackney Attic and the Etcetera Theatre in London, with readings in Norwich, Brighton and Cornwall. Sue’s nine radio dramas have broadcast on BBC Radio 4, WLRfm, KCLR96fm. Awards, Residencies and Bursaries: 2017 – Claremorris Fringe Award, Heinrich Boll bursary and residency 2016 - Peggy Ramsay Foundation playwriting grant, Tyrone Guthrie Centre residency, Arts Council England funding 2015 – BBC Opening Lines Award, Arte Studio Ginestrelle residency 2014 - University of Lincoln Ph.D. fees funding 2013 – Escalator Award, Áras Eanna Inis Oirr residency 2012 - Meridian Short Story Prize 2011 – The Molly Keane Memorial Award, Sussex Playwrights’ Award, the HiSSAC Award 2010 - Ted O'Regan bursary, Tyrone Guthrie Centre residency (2016 - Finalist for the Eamon Keane Playwriting Prize, Nick Darke Award and the Old Vic 12) A UEA Creative Writing MA alumna, she spent eleven years in Budapest, editing Hungary A.M. Presently, she is London-based, researching a PhD on the Royal Court Theatre. Sue is Deputy Literary Manager at the Finborough. View all posts by suehealy

11 responses to “Amelia stands out from the line

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