Saturday, February 22, 2014

Unique and Important Adjectives to Avoid

Let's be honest: adjectives like "interesting" and "unique" are a waste of space. They convey no useful information to your reader. Adding an adverb — "extremely interesting," "very unique," etc. — only makes it worse, not better.

Some of these adjectives are hype (short for hyperbole), exaggerated claims that your readers will ignore. Unique? Really? Telling your readers that something is unique does not make it so; you must give them the evidence they need to reach that conclusion on their own.

Other adjectives are so vague that they convey no useful information. Your readers need to know more, and it is your job to provide the details. Important... for what purpose? Special... in what way? Incredible... for what reason?

So, if you see one of these empty adjectives, that means you probably still have work to do. You may need to add more detail to the sentence, or you may decide to delete the sentence and start over from scratch.

interesting
unique
important 
unusual
incredible
special 
remarkable
exceptional

Of course, this is only a partial list. As you read, look for the empty adjectives that annoy you. If you find the adjectives annoying as a reader, you should avoid those adjectives when you write!

Examples:

BEFORE: Sita's story is truly unique.
(This sentence cannot be saved; start over.)

BEFORE: He admired the orchids for their beauty and unique shape.
AFTER: He admired the orchids for their beauty.
(Of course, if you want to describe the shape, then do that! Great!)

BEFORE: Although the three previous murders were very unique, the fourth murder was the strangest of all.
AFTER: The three previous murders were strange indeed, but the fourth murder was the strangest of all.
(This sentence is still more fluff than substance, but at least it is no longer "very unique.")

BEFORE: Hercules is a very interesting hero.
(This sentence cannot be saved; start over.)

BEFORE: I wanted to learn more about these interesting and mysterious creatures.
AFTER: I wanted to learn more about these mysterious creatures.
(And if you want to say more about exactly why the creatures were interesting, then do that!)

BEFORE: I want to tell you an interesting story about a sloth.
AFTER: I want to tell you a story about a sloth.
(We trust you not to tell us a boring story, at least not on purpose.)

BEFORE: Hanuman is an important character in the Ramayana.
(This sentence cannot be saved; start over.)

BEFORE: The king had four daughters who were known for their exceptional beauty.
AFTER: The king had four beautiful daughters.
(That is a sentence you can build on; if you have more to say, say it! Describe those daughters to us so that we can see how beautiful they were.)

BEFORE: An unusual, phosphorescent moss covered the walls, glowing faintly in the dark.
AFTER: Phosphorescent moss covered the walls, glowing faintly in the dark.
(Phosphorescent moss is already unusual; you can safely leave that adjective out.)

BEFORE: Sita gave Hanuman a special necklace.
AFTER: Sita gave Hanuman a necklace.
(What kind of necklace? The word "special" does not answer that question; we need to know more.)

For more strategies to use in reducing your word count while improving your writing, see this list: Short and Sweet Writing Strategies.




Hanuman; photograph by Os Rupias at Flickr.



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