Today's writing wisdom comes from Harper Lee, Pulitzer-Prize winning author of To Kill a Mockingbird and Go Set a Watchman.
Her advice? Delete the adjectives, and you'll have the facts.
Of course, she wrote fiction. But she's got a point.
Description in writing is a virtue [I'm looking at you, Charles Dickens]. But too much, and the fact of the matter gets lost [Still looking at you, Dickens. Still looking at you.]
As an illustration, let's examine a sentence most of us first heard in kindergarten (for its containing all letters of the English alphabet):
The quick, brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
The author wanted us to know that--in this very short story--the key players are:
- Fox: quick, brown (1)
- Dog: lazy (1)
Now, let's give the same sentence the Harper Lee treatment, and drop the adjectives:
The fox jumped over the dog.
See? You've only got the facts of the situation here. Who was there (fox, dog), and what happened (display of laziness, jumping). This writer (or editor) wants you to imagine everything else.
So, just like with its abrasive cousin the adverb, there is nothing inherently wrong with using adjectives in your writing. But overuse (or misuse) will dilute your brand messaging (or storytelling).
Want to practice?
Entrepreneurs: Select a few sentences of copy about a product or service you offer from your site or newsletter.
Creatives: Select a character in your song/story, etc. and a short verse or passage that describes something they do or experience.
Got that in mind? Good. Go over your copy. Notice what you describe, and what you don't. List or mark the instances where things are described if you need to. Then, apply these rules:
KEEP the descriptive words that are essential to understanding what/who is being described.
DITCH whatever keeps your ideal audience from using their imagination and building their own connection with you and your storytelling.
Now, reread your passage. Did it get better? [I think we both know the answer to that.]