Words to do Without
(Adverbs, Adjectives … and Exclamation marks!)
Once upon a time, long long ago, part of my job was to copy out scripts of children’s television programmes. The scripts consisted of lines of interrupted speech of the ‘You didn’t!’ ‘I did!’ variety. Every single sentence ended in an exclamation mark and my little finger grew an ache slamming down the ‘caps’ key and hitting the exclamation mark. (This was in the days of Noah’s Ark and manual typewriters.)
Did I take on board the fact that exclamation marks were, on the whole, an exercise in futility? Did I heed the wise words of a better writer than myself, that an exclamation mark indicated someone was shouting?
Of course not. Not for years.
Nowadays, I still put them in because that’s the way speech arrives in my head, but I take nearly all of them out in the editing. Try it for yourself and see how little you really need them. If the sentence doesn’t convey your meaning as it stands, you might like to rewrite using stronger words, and see if that will do the trick.
Another trick of the trade is to limit yourself to the number of adjectives you use. It is a temptation to lard your language with three or four to describe a place or person. But, ‘She was sixty years, aiming to appear forty’ gives the reader an insight into character. Isn’t showing the nature of a person better than painting a superficial picture such as ‘She had fake, white-gold curls clustered around a heart-shaped face sculpted by a reasonably good plastic surgeon; delicate eyebrows had been pencilled in, and she had suspiciously full red lips’?
Mind you, I’m addicted to qualifying words such as ‘little, pretty, quite, just,’ but I know my weaknesses now, and if they still manage to creep into a manuscript, I take them out in editing. The trick is to use them so sparingly that when the reader does comes across one, it makes an impact.
As for adverbs…don’t go there.
You will scream, ‘But they are so useful!’ Yes, of course they are, and I sympathise with your exclamation mark in this case. And yes, on occasion I do use them myself. But they are unfashionable, and you will find that if you recast the sentence (see exclamation marks, for the use of), you will achieve a smoother style.