Rule #4 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #4

4: Cut adjectives where possible. See rule 3 (for ‘verb’ read ‘noun’).

Ha!  Since I posed it last week, let me do a little cut and paste for you.

3: Use strong nouns in preference to adjectives. I won’t say avoid adjectives, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adjectives as an excuse for failing to find the correct noun.

swish swivel squiggle 2

Hmmm.  No adjectives?  As in NONE?  I’m not sure I agree with this, although I have caught myself using TOO MANY from time to time.  I mean, you need to describe stuff, right?

Strong nouns?  I think maybe he should have re-thought that.  I can understand not saying: “The angry dog barked”

What should be said is “The dog lowered his head, baring teeth.  His bark echoed through the room”

The second angry dog is much more menacing, and I didn’t use any adjectives.  I think he may just be talking about the whole show verses tell issue, because you’re gonna have to describe a few things sooner or later, right?

Open discussion time!  What have you found with your writing and adjectives?  What do you think Allen Gutrie’s point is? Where do you think adjectives are necessary?



14 responses to “Rule #4 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

  1. I agree! I challenge anyone to open up any best-selling book and go more than 4 pages without finding an adjective.

    But, as with all writing advice, there’s a grain of truth in there. Prose riddled with adjectives instead of strong, well-chosen language is meh. 🙂

    You go, Jennifer!

  2. Pingback: Self-Editing Check List | michelle ziegler

  3. Correct noun? Does this mean a strong noun? What is that? The more rules I read about, the more my draft writing suffers. I can’t turn off my editor. Interesting discussion.

  4. One of the problems I have with “absolutes” like this is that if every writer followed them, I think most books would end up sounding the same. I mean, should every author write like Hemingway? No. Definitely we should avoid overuse of any aspect of language. But I can’t imagine building a historical or fantasy world without some adjectives to go with those strong nouns!

  5. I know I lay the adjectives on thick, but to eliminate them entirely seems implausible. They exist to describe things for a reason after all.

  6. I know I keep harping back to this, but J.K. Rowling was notorious for using a wealth of adjectives and adverbs in her Harry Potter series and I don’t think her fans – all gazillion billion of them – care. I think if you write a great story, the reader will tend to overlook the adjectives and adverbs.

    • I agree to an extent. The problem would be finding an agent / publisher who would accept them. I recently had to “fight” for a few with an editor. — but I just had to explain why I thought they were needed

  7. He might genuinely believe in no adjectives, or it might be a deliberate exaggeration. People tend to respect and remember absolutes more than complex conditionals, so he might either be writing what sells or using psychology to make people justify their adjectives to themselves.