On writing: Use Specific Nouns & Adjectives

Think about this sentence: "Johnny smelled something delicious."

Close your eyes and try to imagine exactly what Johnny smelled. How many of you are thinking pizza? How about steak? How about ice cream? Pie? Any pies out there?

All of us are smelling something different, aren't we. Why? Because the word delicious is not descriptive enough. It's what we call a bland adjective.

Bland adjectives are adjectives that tell us absolutely nothing about what we are trying to describe. When I wrote delicious, you had no idea what I meant. You knew whatever Johnny smelled probably tasted (and smelled) yummy, but you had no idea what it was.

Let's try this sentence instead: "Johnny smelled brown sugar, cinnamon, and raisins."

Do you notice the difference between this sentence and the first? With this sentence, you know exactly what Johnny is smelling, and you can almost smell it yourself. You are right there with Johnny, smelling the brown sugar, raisins, and cinnamon—which we can only assume are for oatmeal cookies.

When you write, try to use specific adjectives. Instead of cold, try frosty, chilly, or icy. Replace hot with sultry, humid, or arid. Use adjectives that help your reader envision your story, characters, and landscape better. This will help enhance your reader's reading experience.

The same principle applies to nouns. Instead of ball, try baseball, basketball, rubber ball, or even crystal ball. For bird, use cardinal, blue jay, or sparrow. Eliminate your trees and give your readers firs, elms, pines, and oaks. Using specific nouns will help your reader see exactly what you're seeing. Both you and your reader will be on the same page. 

Fantasy novelist M. B. Weston is the author of The Elysian Chronicles, a fantasy series about guardian angel warfare and treason, which is being adapted into a graphic novel series by Wandering Sage Publications, Inc. Weston speaks to children, teens, and adults about writing and the process of getting published. For more information on M. B. Weston, visit www.mbweston.com. Find out more about The Elysian Chronicles at www.elysianchronicles.com.

About M. B. Weston

M. B. Weston is an award-winning fantasy, pulp, young adult, steampunk, and paranormal author. Her attention to procedure and detail gives her works an authentic gritty, military feel that takes an adventure tale to the level of a true page-turner. Weston’s writing attracts both fantasy and non-fantasy readers, and her audience ranges from upper-elementary students to adults. A gifted orator, Weston has been invited as a guest speaker to numerous writing and science fiction/fantasy panels at conventions across the US, including DragonCon, BabelCon, NecronomiCon, and Alabama Phoenix Festival. She has served on panels with such authors as Sherrilyn Kenyon, J. F. Lewis, Todd McCaffrey, and Jonathan Maberry. Weston has spoken to thousands of students and adults about the craft of writing and has been invited as the keynote speaker at youth camps and at several schools throughout the US.
This entry was posted in Description, Editing Your Work, The World of Writing, Voice, Technique, & Style. Bookmark the permalink.