All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Monday, June 5, 2023

The Limits of Description

My last post, "In Defense of Adverbs,"  discussed the use (and abuse) of adverbs, those nasty words that help push along verbs. A few people sent me a few messages, and some writing groups had their own opinions. However, one thing was clear - descriptive things such as adverbs raise writers' blood pressures. So, on that note, let's move on to adjectives.

Adjectives describe a person, place, thing, or idea - so there are a whole lot of them. In that old typing line, "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog," three adjectives show up, yet no adverbs. Any simple object has a lot of words that can describe it. The fox in the example is quick and brown, but it can also be furry, small, smelly, loud, inquisitive, feral, and a bunch of other things. And yes, they are all interesting. The real question is how do we use them properly and effectively. 

Now, in the case of our quick brown fox, we have quick and brown. They are both used in the sentence because it's a typing sentence and it needs some letters, but in narrative writing, are they really necessary? A writer's thought process should consider what needs to be described, what is assumed, and what isn't really important. Just looking at these two words, I would personally kick one to the curb.

As I mentioned in the adverb piece, we don't need to add descriptions to verbs that merely say what the verb implies - there's no need to say that someone runs fast, because running is presumed to be fast. The same argument can be made for the color of the fox. Foxes are generally brown, so unless there's an important reason to remind people what color the fox is, it can be dumped. Now, the quick part can be kept, particularly because the speed of the fox is relevant to it jumping over the aforementioned lazy dog. Quick stays, brown goes.

The importance of adjectives when it comes to writing is bringing out the details that contribute something to the story that isn't otherwise assumed. The basic tree is leafy, green, tall and majestic, but none of these things have to be mentioned because everyone's stock memory of a tree fills in the information just fine. Now, a bonsai tree is different, but it still has some assumptions. Leafy and green, yes. Tall and majestic, no. What we assume about whatever kind of tree we discuss can be left behind. 

The best reason to use an adjective is to bring something new and fresh to the person, place, or thing being described. Revisiting our quick brown fox, we add a lot more to the description if we describe the things the reader can't see or assume. That quaint little typing line changes quickly if we replace our fox adjectives with "feral" or "rabid." That's a new story entirely, mostly because those adjectives add a dimension to the sentence that otherwise doesn't exist. And that is the most important part of any descriptor you use, or for that matter, any word you use.            


  1. A new and improved version for typists: The silver Pampas Fox stumbled on the lazy Rhodesian Ridgeback's under-jaw.
    For authors, silver is not the normal color of this fox breed, so will the color have a special meaning? The fox and dog breeds do not naturally occur on the same continent which gives the reader a mystery to consider.

    1. That is not only a far more engaging sentence but also a greater challenge for beginning typists.

  2. ... and I thought it was helpful because it also used capital letters, an apostrophe and hyphen.