Sunday, 15 September 2013

Modifiers: Be Specific

This is part two of my 'modifying modifier usage' posts, although I decided against calling it that on the basis that I can’t say it out loud. 
I’ll get straight to the point: it is better to use specific nouns and verbs than to stuff your sentence full of modifiers. If taking away every adverb and adjective in your writing leaves you with a bland story, then you’re doing it wrong.

Pick interesting seed words instead. Otherwise it’s like putting lipstick on a very bland looking pig.

Here are some common examples:

Runs slowly --> Jogs

Said quietly --> Whispered, muttered, murmured

Frowned aggressively --> Growled, glared, glowered, scowled

Often, reducing usage of modifiers can make a sentence feel stronger. Take taglines for example. Sometimes just ‘said’ can feel more apt, especially if you've used a lot of description in other taglines or you don’t particularly need to accentuate the way that bit’s spoken.

Basically, it’s better to think about what you’re doing and how each word affects the piece as a whole, rather than getting in the mindset of ‘this sounds good - I'll do it more’. Often, copious amounts of modifiers sound like the writer is trying too hard and slows the pace in a way that is only recognisable after they've been removed. It’s something that needs to be played around with a fair bit to realise the effect.

Don’t get me wrong, modifiers have their uses. They’re just not an every-other-word type of technique.