Sometimes the perfect adjective can make a sentence sing. Sometimes it can strangle the life out of it and leave it – and your reader – dead on the floor.

This is a lesson every writer has to learn – usually more than once. Last Wednesday, in fact, after reviewing a lackluster article a staff member had written, Charlie Byrne reminded the editorial team just how deadly these “fluff” words can be.

The main problem with adjectives, Charlie pointed out, is that they often end up “telling” rather than “showing.” It’s nouns and verbs that give your writing real strength.

Take, for instance, this sentence: “The girl was nervous and sweaty.” Pretty boring, right?

But let’s say we change that sentence to this: “The girl’s skin glistened with perspiration. She chewed at the fingernails of one hand, while twisting a lock of hair with the other.” Now, you can “see” for yourself that the girl is nervous and sweaty.

Mark Twain had the following recommendation for avoiding one overused fluff word: “Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very,’” said Twain. “Your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”

Try this trick with ALL your adjectives. Then go back in and see where you can supercharge your sentences with verbs and nouns.

[Ed. Note: The best way to fill your writing with powerful nouns and verbs is to improve your vocabulary. You can broaden your personal lexicon with ETR’s Words to the Wise audio program.]
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