We’ve all been told to limit our use of adjectives and adverbs when trying to describe, and, for goodness sake, show…don’t tell! If we have to show but aren’t allowed to use adjectives and adverbs, what do we do?
We unleash power verbs and nouns!
If, in your story, Joe walked into the room, you’re not painting a very clear picture for your readers. But, if Joe marched into the room, now it appears that maybe he is mad, or wants to show his authority. If, instead, Joe ambled into the room, then perhaps he’s trying to be indifferent, or show us his nonchalant attitude. What a different picture these two power verbs paint, even though they both mean “a way of walking.”
Choosing the most precise verb possible to describe your action is paramount to effective writing. The goal of any writing is to engage your reader and create an emotional response–not just an intellectual one–to your writing. Using precise verbs will help do this.
Likewise, using specific nouns will also help engage your reader. Instead of saying, “Louise got into her car,” paint a picture: “Louise plopped down into her ’67 powder blue Mustang convertible.” Now your image comes alive, and whenever she drives her car–for the remainder of your story–you will see her in that powder blue Mustang.
Yes, it’s true that I did use a couple of adjectives in the above example, but the key word is “Mustang.” Even with only using that word, your readers will get a more specific image in their heads, which is the goal. The color could be eliminated, but the use of color truly does color your writing!
Instead of settling for the first verb or noun you think of, find others that still convey your meaning, yet provoke more of an emotional response and cause a specific image to form. This helps eliminate many of the adjectives and adverbs you thought you needed, and you will be on your way to showing, not telling.
In addition to choosing specific verbs and nouns for their meaning, it’s also important to consider their connotations–how the sound they have conveys meaning. I’ll be discussing this later in the week. Stay tuned…