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Jan's Writing Basics #2: Beware of Adjectives and Adverbs

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 25, 2010 3:55 pm

Soren, did you hear me screaming all the way from Michigan?
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Postby Tricia » Mon Jan 25, 2010 4:03 pm

The only one I question is 'gruesome.' If Jan is a homicide detective, her work might be gruesome, but 'gruesome' and 'weary' don't necessarily go hand-in-hand. But--who knows? Maybe she is!


Thanks for the critique, Jan.

I guess when I think of work, I think of my job as an RN for 30 years. Most of the time it was gruesome! :)
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Postby Shann » Mon Jan 25, 2010 4:07 pm

The exclamation of "Agony, I'm in agony" feels "off" to me. Would anyone really say that?
was my tongue in cheek way of showing an exaggeration. Of course she wouldn't say that, but I was going for a bit of irony in the lesson. I overdid those few words because that was the point of the lesson. Maybe I was too subtle, like I said I haven't slept in about 40 hours. :)

As long as you are talking about adj. would you mind addressing one of my little pet peeves? For example: I have 3 kids, 2 girls and 1 boy. My oldest child is Emily, but my younger daughter is Lydia.
When comparing between two things you use -er, if it's 3 or more you use -est.
I hope I'm not overstepping. I'm looking forward to learning a lot from you. (Again a poor attempt of tongue in cheek.) I hopefully will get better once I've fully healed from my surgery and get some sleep.
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Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 25, 2010 4:14 pm

Shann, you're absolutely right about the -er and -est endings. I'm sure Ann will cover those when she gets to adjectives in her grammar class, but I'm glad to see them brought up here, too! It never hurts to see those grammar rules repeated.

Never feel that you're overstepping by bringing some additional point up here! That's how this differs from a real "class"--more interactive, and the "teacher" definitely appreciates learning from her students! Thanks, Shann.
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Postby OldManRivers » Mon Jan 25, 2010 4:34 pm

Jan, great thread going here.

The conversation stirred an idea, tangential though it might be. I always find those moments in writing when I am trying to CHOOSE between this word or that word. I thought it might be both fun and helpful to take sentences we are writing and then have feedback over which word is best to use and why.

As an example ... "As I left the light of the village, I became aware of how HEAVY/THICK the night air in these parts could be."

I would choose HEAVY BECAUSE ...

I would choose THICK because ...

As another alternative, I might use the word ...
May God's gentle grace be with you.

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 25, 2010 4:53 pm

Interesting, Jim!

Often when I have to choose between words, it's a matter of examining their connotations and associations. Given the two words you've got in your example (heavy/thick)--I think they're about equal in weight and meaning, and personally I don't prefer one over the other.

However, I'd probably pick "thick" because of the rhythm of the sentence: ...how THICK the night AIR in these PARTS...

It's got a nice flow to it, and I often pick a word, even when writing prose, for its syllable count.

A little bit off- topic--but fascinating!
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Postby Green Leaves » Mon Jan 25, 2010 5:05 pm

Here's my take and I'm not a fiction writer:

Exhausted, Jan plodded into her home after an endless day at work. Slipping off her shoes at the door, she dragged herself into the kitchen for an icy soda and, perhaps, some leftover cake.

"Ow!" Lifting her foot, she discovered a Lego embedded in her tender heel, a leftover from her nephew's visit the day before.


Unnecessary adverbs and adjectives:

...weary and worn out: same as exhausted
...tiredly: already know she's exhausted
...at the end of a long, seemingly endless day: just say endless, gets the point across
...don't need both icy and cold
...don't need both sugary and saccharine
...don't need shiny with stainless steel
..."Ow" is sufficient
...Legos are small, therefore "miniscule"
is redundant
Last edited by Green Leaves on Mon Jan 25, 2010 5:18 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Postby Green Leaves » Mon Jan 25, 2010 5:17 pm

Jim, in YOUR example about the night air...

How about using the word...DENSE?
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Postby Anja » Mon Jan 25, 2010 5:32 pm

glorybee wrote:Shann, you're absolutely right about the -er and -est endings. I'm sure Ann will cover those when she gets to adjectives in her grammar class, but I'm glad to see them brought up here, too! It never hurts to see those grammar rules repeated.


Jan is correct. I'll be dealing with comparatives and superlatives. Come on by the grammar forum and post your requests and suggestions. (I might miss it here.)
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Postby kpwrite » Mon Jan 25, 2010 5:39 pm

OK, here goes!

Exhausted, Jan slumped into her house after an endless day at work. She slipped off her pumps at the door and plodded unenthusiastically toward the kitchen. All she wanted was a chilled Fresca and something sweet—maybe there was leftover cake in the fridge.

A sharp pain pierced through her thoughts. “Ow!” she shrieked, lifting her foot to determine the cause of her sudden agony. There, embedded firmly in the flesh of her left heel, was one minuscule Lego left over from her young nephew’s visit the day before.

Extra credit...
Some of the words are redundant--like exhausted, weary, worn out; choosing one will do it. The same would apply to "sudden, sharp, acute pain".
"Plodded unenthusiastically" -- Unenthusiastically isn't technically needed there, as plodded implies that feeling. (I left it in because I liked it!)
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Postby OldManRivers » Mon Jan 25, 2010 6:02 pm

Just trying to see if I was communicating ...

the word choice item was a suggestion for another thread we might want to create ... not a part of this thread ... huh?
May God's gentle grace be with you.

Jim McWhinnie

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 25, 2010 6:04 pm

Jim, I've got it on my list of future topics. Great suggestion.
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Postby CatLin » Mon Jan 25, 2010 6:38 pm

OldManRivers wrote:Jan, great thread going here.

The conversation stirred an idea, tangential though it might be. I always find those moments in writing when I am trying to CHOOSE between this word or that word. I thought it might be both fun and helpful to take sentences we are writing and then have feedback over which word is best to use and why.

As an example ... "As I left the light of the village, I became aware of how HEAVY/THICK the night air in these parts could be."

I would choose HEAVY BECAUSE ...

I would choose THICK because ...

As another alternative, I might use the word ...


I do that alot ;) when I'm writing - exactly the way you have it formatted/typed. :D When I do my first (or second or third) edit, it gets easier to pick a word. In your example, how about "oppressive"?

Great lesson, Jan!
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Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 25, 2010 6:46 pm

Green Leaves wrote:Here's my take and I'm not a fiction writer:

Exhausted, Jan plodded into her home after an endless day at work. Slipping off her shoes at the door, she dragged herself into the kitchen for an icy soda and, perhaps, some leftover cake.

"Ow!" Lifting her foot, she discovered a Lego embedded in her tender heel, a leftover from her nephew's visit the day before.


Nice, greenleaves! And by trimming the unnecessary adjectives and adverbs, the passage has gone from 107 words to 56. Imagine doing that kind of paring-down of a whole passage--all those freed-up words to work with now!

Since you mention that you're not usually a writer of fiction, can you share with us any insights about the uses of adjectives and adverbs in nonfiction?
Jan Ackerson

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Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 25, 2010 6:49 pm

Kristi, I'm going to give you the gold star--you've gotten rid of all the unnecessary stuff (except for 'unenthusiastically', but that's a style choice), but kept enough interesting words to make this a pretty engaging passage. Well done!
Jan Ackerson

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