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Things and Stuff




The simple act of using extra words to further describe the sights, sounds, and feels, of the picture that you're trying to paint for your audience. A single adjective can change the whole perspective of the current scene that your readers are engaged in at the moment. For example, let's say they walk into their bedroom and there's a body laying in their bed. Ok, so what does that mean?

The truth is...it can mean a LOT of things.

An adjective will set the tone for the entire moment that you're immersed in. Is it a 'sexy' body? Maybe it's a really hot guy, and he's been waiting for your main character to come home from work. That's going to paint a whole picture for everybody that's reading it. However...what if it's a 'dead' body? Oh my! Well, that's a whole different scenario now, isn't it? What if it's the sleeping body of a relative or a close friend? What if it's a 'strange' body that your protagonist doesn't recognize? And he's asleep while your main character tries to figure out who the hell he is. This can go an almost infinite number of ways, and the adjective is the key to opening the portal to the story that you're trying to tell. Further adjectives can add even more finesse to pictures in your head, and can entice your audience to lean in and want to investigate further. Just the right adjective at just the right time can turn a plain, informational, sentence into a work of art. So use them wisely. It matters.

While writing, there will be many times when simplicity is best. But, whenever you can, try to avoid using words like 'things' and 'stuff' and 'a lot of people' and words that are functional...but extremely vague. I'm not saying that you have to stress yourselves out trying to come up with something overly poetic or witty, but try to keep from making this foggy, unclear, words a crutch to lean back on. Because when you go back and look at your work later, you might be shocked how many times you use them. Adjectives are unlimited...learn how to weave them into your narrative. Be descriptive. Let your readers see what you see, feel what you feel. It makes for a better reading experience.

Now, professionally...I won't beat around the bush about this...you are going to run into some occasional backlash and criticism when it comes to adjectives in your writing. Hehehe, I don't know why, but it'll happen. So expect it. I've had writing classes where teachers don't want you to use an adjective that uses 'ly' at the end of it. (Quickly, Angrily, Happily, Shyly, Sadly) It is extremely frustrating for me to try to write like that! LOL! It can be done, sure. But it can be done the same way that I could probably walk around a shopping mall with two cinder blocks chained to my ankles. I could probably manage, but WHY? Leave me alone! Set me FREE, dammit! Hehehe!

I think that adjectives of all kinds can be used effectively in your fiction, no matter what you're writing, you just have to find out how to do so without going overboard. And without having those adjectives end up being wasted or sounding empty. As with everything else that goes along with being a writer...it takes practice. Don't ever forget the discipline of practice. I can't stress that enough. It's like trying to build and maintain biceps and six pack abs with no exercise. It just doesn't work like that.

So, today, I want to talk about adjectives. Some of the do's, some of the don'ts, and the difference between constructive adjectives as opposed to empty adjectives.

Now...you may ask, "What is an 'empty adjective'?"

To put it in layman's terms...it's an adjective that doesn't go anywhere or have anything to do with the issue at hand. It is completely disconnected from what it is that you might be trying to say. Now, I have been known to use these empty adjectives myself on occasion, simply because it feels comfortable to me while I'm writing, and I feel like it sounds good. But when I go back to do a final self edit, most of them always get cut from the finished project. They're just not needed. They come of as lame and inauthentic in the long run, and it can take points away from the overall feel and momentum of your story if you're not careful with when and where you decide to break the rules.

One of the best examples that I can think of comes from a certain American politician that I won't name for the sake of keeping the peace. Hehehe! Let's call him...ummm...'Ronald'.

This is the epitome of chronically using 'empty adjectives' that go absolutely nowhere and prove nothing at all. It's a conversational trick. It's a lie, wrapped in a lie, wrapped in a fake emotional attachment that doesn't exist. It is literally like nails on a chalkboard for me to try to even make sense out of it. It's like having to dig through a puddle of mud to try to find a point...and then, when you find it...it wasn't worth finding in the first place. It's maddening.

Imagine if GayAuthors made a post that said, "Comicality's stories aren't really that good. But at least they get attention." And I went out of my way to post, "Well, the failing GayAuthors site doesn't know what it's talking about. And they're not doing big numbers anyway." Well...that has nothing to do with anything. It isn't an argument, it has no point, it doesn't even address the situation. It's just childish name calling, and when looking for a point...where is it? Was that my defense? If Charles Manson told me the sky was blue, and I talked about how he was an awful person for ten minutes...well, ok sure, but...is the sky blue, or isn't it? Where did you lose me? Hehehe! What were we talking about again?

Adjectives are supposed to cling to the people, the objects, or the subjects that you're talking about. They're meant to add color and detail to what you're describing. Something that I've noticed more and more lately is that people will use random words because of their emotional connection to the words themselves...but that doesn't mean that they have any real 'meaning'. When used in context with the moment that you're creating for your characters, do your adjectives really connect to what you're talking about? If you wrote, "We had a very strong conversation." or "I looked in to it strongly."...well what does that mean? I know what the word 'strong' means, and I know the emotional connection to that single word...but how does that relate to what you're talking about? What is a strong conversation? Were you...wrestling with your shirts off when you said it? Were you shouting at each other? How does 'strong' and 'conversation' match up in any way? You can have two characters that are mad at one another, and they had a strongly worded conversation...sure. That makes sense. Because 'strong' is connected to the words. But you can't just toss random words out there and expect them to have any impact as an adjective. Saying something is horrible, or strong, or bad, mad, sad, rude...and you don't make them connect to an actual point or use them to demonstrate a flair for enhancing the picture you want to pain for your readers...then those are wasted adjectives. Learn how to spot them, and edit them out. Trust me, you won't miss them when they're gone.

How do you connect your adjectives with focus in order to give them more than a temporary emotional bond with a floaty word that isn't anchored to anything? Think about it this way...

Let's say that your protagonist is eating lunch in the food court at the mall, and a beautiful boy catches his eye from across the room. And the first thing he notices is hair. So, we're going to use 'hair' as our adjective anchor in this example. K?

- He has hair. That's obvious. But we know there's something special about it, because it caught his eye. So let's enhance that picture a bit more.

- He has longish hair. The word 'longish' is connected to our anchor, and now we've got a bit of a clearer picture of what our main character is staring at.

- He has longish, blond, hair. Ok, a bit more description, but it's not floating away from our anchor. Both longish and blond are still connected to his 'hair'. Does he have 'strong' hair? No. That doesn't really make sense. Unless he's using it to pull a tractor trailer behind him or something.

- He has longish, blond, curly, hair.

- He has shiny, longish, dark blond, curly, hair.

And so forth and so on. You can do that all day if you really wanted to (Don't overdo it though), but you have to make sure that you're staying focused on the very thing that you're trying to describe. That way, anyone can look at the three pics below and know exactly which boy I'm talking about in this particular scene...



Don't mistake the meaning of a single random adjective with having meaning in the context of a sentence. We know what 'failing' means, and we know how that's supposed to make us feel...but what does it have to do with what you're talking about? Why even bother to add that? It's just another layer of mud that readers have to dig through to see if they missed something that made that particular description even remotely necessary. It's like saying, "My dream boy lit a 'heartbreaking' candle." Can candles be heartbroken? I know what heartbreak is, and I know the emotional response attached to the word heartbreak, but how am I supposed to connect that adjective to the candle? You can't just 'trick' people into feeling how you want them to feel by attacking their emotions with random words and hoping it'll bully them into seeing the situation a certain way. Describe and flesh out the moment. That's your job as an author. Appeal to their logic and sense of true understanding. The appropriate emotions will follow on their own once they understand the moment as a complete and detailed experience. Don't simply throw out words like sad, tragedy, and disaster, and expect your audience to automatically think, "Oh man, this is such a sad and tragic disaster..." That's not writing, that's hypnotism. Hehehe, not the same thing. And it easily breaks itself down and falls apart for anybody who is truly paying attention.

Remember, adjectives aren't supposed to invoke emotion on their own. They're there to elevate the descriptions and the feelings of the scene itself. The emotion has to be earned through the writing itself, adjectives are just a writer's way of sprinkling a little bit of added sugar on top. Don't take shortcuts and try to force your readers to feel something that they have no reason to feel. Find your anchor, whatever you want to latch on to, and make sure that all of your descriptions are there to enrich that one vision...and nothing else. If you say something is big, and great, and strong, and powerful, and massive...cool. What's big, and great, and strong, and powerful, and massive? "My ice cream cone." Ok...you just lost me. Hehehe! NONE of those words are connected to an ice cream cone in any way shape or form. I know what they mean, but...what are you talking about? Thanks. You just wasted my valuable time. Sorry I asked.

I hope this will help you guys learn to recognize these little missteps when you see them in your writing, or in other people's writing. In movies, in music, and anywhere else that you might want to see if the words are matching up to the meaning behind them. Or if they come off as being completely detached and wander off into some limbo that isn't connected to anything of value. Don't fake it, it will only come off as a distraction and it will give your descriptions less meaning and next to zero impact.

I hope this helps with your writing moving forward. I know that we all do a lot of writing on autopilot sometimes, and it's relaxing and it's fun, but the way that you think about the words you use can help give your project a really nice shine, and your audience will appreciate that. Cool?

Take care! And I hope to see you next time! :)


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  • Site Administrator

All public speakers have some level of rhetorical legerdemain they employ, and they all get annoying when overexposed.

As for items ending in 'ly,' a rather interesting book I read on the topic of Showing, not Telling, "-ly" is the easiest thing to search for to find times when you are telling.  "He walked happily through the field" vs. "He skipped through the field with a grin."  The first one I told you he was happy, the second one I showed you through his actions and description that he was happy.

Happy Homer Simpson GIF


That was another thought-provoking article @Comicality Thanks!  This ties in heavily with showing and not telling. 

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Good point @Myr...well said. The tell and show thing is definitely something that I try to keep a decent balance with. But I am a notorious abuser of the '-ly' tactic too. Hehehe! I'll add this concept to my brain bank for later. :P 

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