Writing & Editing Tips Revisited: Using Adjectives and Adverbs #WritingTips #WritingANovel #wwwblogs



The use of adverbs and adjectives is an issue for many writers. Many overuse them in the hope of making their writing seem more interesting, more descriptive. And while I’m not at all advocating that you cut all adverbs and adjectives out of your writing, what I have seen over and over again in the work that I edit, is that both are often added for no discernible reason. This is often, it seems to me, because a writer is trying really hard to set a scene, to draw a reader in. They can see the scene, the characters in their head and they want to convey everything that’s there. And they want to show that they can write, that they have a wide vocabulary. But unfortunately, these adverbs and adjectives often add nothing to the scenes in which they appear.

So how do you know what adjectives and adverbs to cut?

Let’s look at adverbs first.

Adverbs modify verbs. If you’re using an adverb to modify a verb, ask yourself why you need to. Is the verb not doing its job? If the verb alone can’t tell your reader how someone or something is doing something, then is it the right one to use?

For example:

John walked quickly down the street.

man walking quickly

You want your reader to know how John walked, so if he’s walking quickly, then say so – right? Well, no.

John hurried down the street.

One word instead of two – tells us exactly how John is moving.

How about:

She totally, completely accepted that her work needed editing.

Neither of those two adverbs is needed. Just say:

She accepted that her work needed editing.

(Actually get rid of ‘that’ too!)

There are also adverbs that are totally redundant – like ‘totally’ in this sentence!

The fire alarm rang loudly.

How else would it ring? It wouldn’t be much use as a fire alarm if it rang quietly.


fire alarm

A well-placed, strong and evocative adjective can add great detail to a word, phrase or scene. However, too often they come across as contrived and unnecessary.

The beautiful, bubbling river sparkled in the golden sunlight, its silvery ripples reflecting the brilliant, blazing rays that played on the shivering surface.

Too much, far too much. What’s wrong with:

The river sparkled in the sunlight, silvery rays playing on the shivering surface.

(Though, to be honest, that’s still too much).

And be very careful of ‘broad’ adjectives like ‘beautiful’ in the first sentence. ‘Beautiful’, ‘nice’, ‘wonderful’, etc.are broad terms – these words are subjective and mean different things to different people. They add nothing and are best avoided, except in dialogue.

Also be wary of the thesaurus. It is useful and can help you describe things in a fresh, new way. But be careful. Very careful.


The use of adjectives and adverbs is a contentious issue – I’d love to know your thoughts.



  1. Agree, agree. I was thinking about this only this week. You know how creative writing courses, etc, tell you to be aware of the smells, sights and sounds around you all the time? I think some writers think this means you have to put them all in the novel, and that it will set the scene. It doesn’t, very often. Usually, it’s just a paragraph to skip so you can get on with the story. It takes more than a whole bunch of adjectives to paint a picture. It’s a skill, and sometimes doesn’t need many at all.

    I’m being more aware of things like ‘hurried’ instead of ‘walked quickly’ in my redrafting, at the moment…..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Terry – wise words as ever! I find myself skipping great big paras of description more and more in books I’ve read recently. Scene setting needs to be as engaging as any other part of the narrative.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sound advice.
    Because I am unable to write anything serious for anything more than a paragraph, humour blunders in, it sounds fun in my head….
    But on reflection irony or heavy sarcasm does not always translate into the written word, so going around producing stuff like….
    ‘He was suddenly, absolutely, positively, certainly aware that his previously described and guaranteed sacred sword was in the final analysis not all it was cracked up to be’
    …… gets to be irritating after a while.
    Never mind, it only took three failed books to work it out.
    I will bear your wise words in mind for the future.

    Liked by 1 person

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