“Avoid using adjectives and adverbs in poems,” my friend said. Because economy of words is essential for poetry, she explained, we need to use descriptive verbs instead. For example, instead of saying “she walked quietly,” say “she tiptoed.” To describe “run quickly,” you can use verbs like sprint, gallop, scurry, scamper, dash, race, and hasten.
Her suggestion made me wonder about stories. Do we want to drop adjectives and adverbs in narratives, too? Let’s try something.
- She said, “Have a nice day.” — We don’t know her state of mind. Now, let’s add an adverb and descriptive verb.
- ”Have a nice day,” she said disgustedly.
- “Have a nice day,” she spat out.
Suddenly, her mood became visible. An ordinary scene is not so ordinary anymore. Now we know she’s not happy.
The adverb and verb may give you different imagery and different tone. What they have in common is that they add new information and make your story more visual and richer. But pick words purposefully. Not all adverbs and adjectives enrich your story. If you say “he sings very beautifully,” how much value does “very” add to the imagery? Not much. What if we use incredibly, unbelievably, remarkably, or extraordinarily instead of “really” and “very?” The level of beauty is elevated, isn’t it?
And don’t mix them like “spat out disgustedly.” That’s redundant.