Veritably Verbose

 

Street Graffiti, Norwich, March 2014

 

I speak English, Hungarian, French and Irish and I write, ergo  I love words. However, as a teacher of creative writing, I know that the mis/over use of words, particularly adjectives and adverbs, is the most common ‘fault’ you’ll find in the work of novice writers. Lack of confidence in writing skills will have new writers shoehorn as many descriptive words as they can get into a sentence – resulting in a lot of bling and little substance. The advanced writer will ‘show’ an emotion/atmosphere/interpretation in a pared down manner.

It’s hard to ween yourself off adjectives and adverbs. Part of the problem is that there are so many descriptive words in the English language, a tongue with more word-families than any other language. This fact is rooted in the English language’s parentage:  French and German, and also the English language’s absorption of words from a multitude of other tongues.  Thus, there  are many English words that describe quite similarly (ie “loving” is from German and “amorous” is from French), so it is easy to get carried away and over do it, with such a lavish spread on offer. But in order to improve, you need to exercise restraint.

That is not to say you can’t enjoy words. Most of my favourite words are loan words and include: “pyjama” and “shampoo” which come from India (though I’m not sure of the specific languages), “Hacienda” and “siesta” which are Spanish. “Itsy-bitsy”, “paprika”, “coach”, “goulash”, “hussar” and “biro” which are Hungarian. “Smithereen”, “galore”, “banshee”, “slew”, “brogue”, “kibosh”, “hobo”, “gansey” and “shanty” which come from Irish. I enjoy writing them, I love saying them – I’ve just got to be careful about stuffing my prose with too many descriptive and exotic words. Less is usually more. I like to use the painter’s palette analogy – if you add blue to yellow, you get green. If you add blue, yellow, red, green, gray, you get mud. Too many descriptive words, as lovely as they are on their own, will muddy the picture you are trying to create.

Words are fun, go ahead and celebrate words – but do so in moderation…

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About suehealy

Multi award winning 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 2016 play ‘Brazen Strap’ ran at the King’s Head Theatre, funded by Arts Council England. Her work has also shown at the Hackney Attic and Etcetera Theatres in London. Sue’s nine radio dramas have broadcast on BBC Radio 4, WLRfm, KCLR96fm. 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 Literary Manager at the Finborough Theatre. View all posts by suehealy

21 responses to “Veritably Verbose

  • Marc Schuster

    Great advice! It’s always a challenge to find that balance between sparkling prose and (as you deftly put it) over-blinged writing. And I love the image at the top of your post! Great saying.

  • Samir

    I’ll always tell a beginner writer: “scratch off all the adjectives and adverbs and make the sentences still work” – I love the pop-eyed expression I get from that. But yes, it’s true: only that many descriptors need to be present.

    Great post!

  • A'Nena Jewelry

    Your blog is amazing. Thank you for the inspiration.
    A’Nena

  • allanbard

    Useful post, indeed! Will be glad to follow your blog, a writer could find some good advices here it seems! Thank you for liking mine too!
    I hope you’ll like a suggestion/advice of mine too: using sites like zazzle.com, cafepress. com, fiverr? They could be a good way to promote your works/blog, etc and to help “remove” stupidity in the streets like headlines on t-shirts, fridge-magnets, cups, etc: My Boyfriend kisses Better Than Yours, FBI – female body inspector, etc. Not everything we see and think of should be about sex, right? It would be much better if there were more nice pictures of mythical creatures, good thoughts, poems from fantasy genre, etc? I’m allanbard there, I use some of my illustrations, thoughts, poems from my books (like: One can fight money only with money, Even in the hottest fire there’s a bit of water, Money are among the last things that make people rich, or
    Love and happiness will be around,
    as all the chains will disappear,
    and Mountaineers will climb their mount
    and there won’t be any tear!
    etc). Hope such lines look and sound much bettert han the usual we see every day? Best wishes! Let the wonderful noise of the sea always sounds in your ears! (a greeting of the water dragons’ hunters – my Tale Of The Rock Pieces).

  • theliteratecondition

    Oh, I do so love words, too – and the philosophy of language and linguistics. Great stuff! Those in the speculative fields need to add what Damon Knight called “calling a rabbit a smeerp” to the list of language no-nos.
    I wish we had graffiti like that where I live. It would make this corner of the world a better place.
    Thank you for your thoughtful, fun, and interesting posts!

  • W. H. Dean

    Hi Sue,

    I’ve often heard the warning against using big words, but I wonder whether it’s really true that readers find it pretentious. I mean I think it’s pretentious when it’s forced, i.e., when it’s obvious that someone mined the thesaurus for synomyns for “said.” But I prefer to see a sprinkling of uncommon, even unfamiliar words.

    • suehealy

      Hi, I think it’s all about your motivation. If you are using big words to show the world that you have a big vocabulary – then it will ruin your writing. If, however, the occasional unusual word really brings something to your story that a more common synonym won’t, then by all means, use it.

  • Author Mary J. McCoy-Dressel

    I would cringe when I was working with kids in their language arts class. Teachers teach them to use as many adjectives and adverbs as they can. I had to keep my mouth shut because I couldn’t correct them, knowing my place as a teacher’s assistant meant they were the teacher. So, kids are growing up thinking they have to over-describe their sentences. Hopefully, in college they’ll learn different. Or from their editors later.

    • W. H. Dean

      I cringe too. And I can’t for the life of me understand why teachers still do this. After all, they all went to university, where presumably they studied English lit; yet they still teach purple prose. I can’t figure it out.

      • suehealy

        This came up in a recent workshop I held where one of the students was a primary school teacher, and she was quite surprised to learn that adjectives and adverbs are rather discouraged in creative writing. After a lively discussion the group came to the conclusion that it is a good thing to build children’s knowledge of adverbs and adjectives – for they will need to know them for academic/effective communication/business writing. Creative writing is just one area.

  • Sherry Isaac

    Oh, to make a study of languages. How sweet. And how fascinating. Love that I can come to your blog and learn.

  • TheOthers1

    I love using descriptive words. Adjectives are so pretty. Lol. I do like what you said about words being jewels in your mouth.

    More showing, less telling when it comes to writing. Heavily descriptive words are only good when talking, huh? Probably. Nice post. 🙂

  • susartandfood

    Just wanted to let you know I’ve given you The Kreativ Blogger Award. Please visit my website later this morning for details. 🙂 http://www.susartandfood.wordpress.com

  • redwheelbarrow1957

    Sue
    Thanks for following the blog. I hope you enjoy the work. I got your link from susartandfood

    Bryan

  • wightrabbit

    Excellent advice! The modern reader is becoming used to shorter, less convoluted sentence structure, as a result of social media – such as Facebook and Twitter. Too many ‘describing’ words slow down the action. Just my opinion 🙂

  • Susannah Bianchi

    You’re always helpful. I guess you can’t stop teaching. Such a wonderful gift. Thanks.

  • karenselliott

    I never would have guessed that when my English teacher encouraged a large, round, white moon hanging in a deep, dark, midnight sky that she was doing me a disservice. And I want to scream when I see that sort of writing in e-pubbed books. I like to use big words sometimes, but only if I am very friendly with them. They don’t mind.

  • Marcelo V.

    Adjectives and adverbs can be a sore subject for some though many think they make bad fiction writing. I am reminded of something Gabriel Garcia Marquez said, about adverbs, during an interview:

    To tighten his own writing, [Marquez] has eliminated adverbs, which in Spanish all have the ending -mente [the equivalent of -ly] “before Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” he says, “there are many. In Chronicle, I think there is one. After that, in Love there are none. In Spanish, the adverb -mente is a very easy solution. But when you want to use -mente and look for another form it [the other form] always is better. It has become so natural to me that I don’t even notice anymore.”

  • Sunflower

    This post is so very helpful–and affirming. Thank you.

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