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, May 6, 2024

A Little Comment About Modifiers

Instead of me rambling for a few paragraphs before getting to the point, let's just jump right into this while the subject is fresh. I deliberately used the word "little" in the title to make a point, and it's about modifiers. Specifically, what do they offer and when do we really need to use them? There are definitely occasions where modifiers are necessary - how will the reader know if a character is tall, dark, and handsome if you don't say it? - but we tend to use them more than we need to, and our writing pays the price.

Take the title of this piece: "A Little Comment About Modifiers." In this title, "Little" is the modifier, and it makes the title sound all quaint and homey. However, what does this actually provide the reader? By merely looking at the screen, you can tell that this commentary is about the usual length of my comments, so there's nothing really little about it. So, by calling it little, the only thing I am really accomplishing is a sort of trivialization of a commentary that I am actually proud of. One might say I am belittling it - pun intended.

Is this nit-picking? Sort of. We often use words such as these in standard conversation, putting an inflection on them so that whoever is listening gets the point. Often this comes with no shortage of sarcasm. "Why don't I like black olives? Let me give you a little hint - I'm allergic to them!" In this spoken-word example, little is far from referring to something small, but rather understating something that is actually very important. In this case, I openly endorse using a modifier in this manner.

However, most people don't do this, and it gets thrown around without concern, all to the detriment of our poor readers.

"I was a little mad." "We were sort of lost." "She was kind of tall." In these examples, using a modifier takes a simple point-of-fact comment, and actually makes it less interesting. A reader wants to read about someone being mad, not a little mad. How different is being lost from sort of lost? Kind of tall is kind of boring. Each of these sentences has a wonderful opportunity to bring forth some real creativity and make the lines pop, but instead they become weaker for their modifier. Whenever you find yourself using a weak modifier like, a little, kind of, sort of, or similar words, use the opportunity to write a few lines that really show off your writing. Here's what I did with the examples at the beginning of the sentence.

"I was mad. Not foaming-at-the-mouth, red-in-the-face, take-a-swing-at-anything mad, but pretty damn far from happy."

"We were lost. It felt like if we just backtracked a few intersections and took one left instead of a right, we'd be on our way, but we didn't know which right turn was the wrong one."

"She was tall. Her height let her stand just above any crowd, enough to make eye contact with her from across the room"

That's all it takes, and the reader gets a little more engaged rather than a little more bored. So, give this a little try on your next piece, and see if it makes a little difference.           


  1. This blog posting was a little short, I wished it were a lot longer.