NVDT #91 – Random Writerly Concerns – Adjectives

Or – How easily ignorable the written word has become

Or – How the brain autocorrects what we want to read

Several things came up this last week so I’ll load them up, and try to tie them together.

I received an email from Pro Writing Aid a few days ago. The subject was adjectives. Word choice being one of my causes, I checked it out. You can too – https://prowritingaid.com/Adjectives

Point one – I often wonder as writers if we think about which word to use or if we start throwing words that sound like writing at a scene and hope. I read a lot stuff written like that so I know it’s out there. Why I bothered to learn the business/painters’ emotional color wheel and music’s emotional key wheel is beyond me. Except in advertising all that subliminal shit counts. But otherwise? I see people read through and publish atrocious writing all the time. In that case our brains autocorrect the hash to make sense of the reading exercise.

Which brings me to point two. I read (yes, really) a post the other day about Tolkien’s using only primary (or blended primary) colors in the Hobbit books. No adverbs or added adjectives. Green, blue, white, yellow etc. I will not elaborate on the plethora of bullshit commentary that subject brought out, but suffice it to say there was everything from another example of genius in creating a different word that was flat and different to dimensionality (?) to his innermost psychological workings.

It was brilliant, but not because he was colorblind or his mother fed him too much oatmeal or his writing instructor had small breasts and fat ankles. It was a simple authorial tactic to build reader investment. JRR writes “green.” Okay. Is your green my green, or Jim Bob’s green or Betty Sue’s green? No. When I read that book, that green belongs to me. Without me noticing it. I see my green in his description and I am involved. Slick, dead simple and big time effective use of adjectives (possibly nouns).

Staying with the color thing, think how many uses ‘blue’ has. Adjective, noun, verb. Staying away from determiners is a sure-fire way to avoid confusion, and offer ownership – (n) She was dressed in blue. If that’s it, she’s ours. In this case our brains will fill in the gaps, the right outfit, the right blue.

Next – I answered the call to a blog suggestion this week. Here it is. “Write a top 10 list in the voice of a character. Is your character a person making a bucket list? How about someone listing their greatest fears? What does the list they make say about the character?”

Simple, huh? There were a handful of lists alright. Narrative, bullet points, almost back jacket material. I mentioned that. Nobody said “oops.” Why? What was the word most everyone pegged? List. Like it had been LIST surrounded by air. And they proceeded to read right past “in the voice of a character.” List. Okay, easy. Done. Next? In this case the brain skips what we don’t want to see or have time for.

I learned a while ago that in business most people I dealt with from overlings to underlings decided to open an email based solely on the preview. No, you say! Bullshit. Just like how everyone is against texting and driving and says they don’t and all you need to do to disprove that is look at the car next to you. I got in the habit of starting emails like the sky was falling. I know I often bail on brevity when it’s not business, probably from all that biz brevity. My point is, why has it become impossible to read the whole damn thing, all of it, absorb its meaning, be in the words?

Which brings me to why bother writing like you mean it, in a straight line, when people will take what they want from it like it was a crap sound bite from USA Today?

Last but not least – Earlier today I read one of those modern “free form poetic prose” bits from a site dedicated to that “style”. A site with tons of fawning followers. It read like a narrative Hallmark moment. Which is okay, but don’t call it free form poetic prose when it’s full of glue words and medium strength common adjectives. Even when there’s a power adjective/noun/verb it is usurped by a miasma of surrounding and, and the.

The conclusion – Maybe we write exactly what we mean. Nothing more. No one will bother to read, or will read through our polished, over edited prose looking for the key word(s). We should all be on an Ezra Pound or T.S. Eliot Haiku mission. Or a Joe Friday style of “Just the facts, ma’am.”

It’s sad because that’s what I used to do with Spanish when I worked in that environment. I listened for the noun, verb or adjective combo. Necesito un pedal de sostenido para mi teclado marca Korg Em A Uno. Sustain pedal – Korg – M-1.

I guess that’s all we really need,

Since no one bothers to read. Hey! I’m a poet!

Published by

Phil Huston


20 thoughts on “NVDT #91 – Random Writerly Concerns – Adjectives”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. I was thinking of compiling a top ten list of what I liked about it even if I did not agree with (or understand) everything. I am dead set against driving and texting but I do it in emergencies and my life is one big emergency. Apparently others are like me: Rules are for others, exceptions are for me!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yep, I totally missed the ‘List in the voice of a character’ because probably I read it too fast after coming home from work when I had too many other things to do as well. As they say… my bad…(I hate that phrase).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it’s more about how much attention weight we allocate to any given input. Okay, that, they want a list, next, grandkid birthday party, yeah, another post from from X, Jesus, what’s that, three for today, AARP no, Netflix got their payment…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Netflix is free, but it’s… did I copy that letter to the RSSC before I left work? What’s for dinner? I need another half hour of exercise after these 60 blogs where I’ve got to leave comments on. When can Scotty beam me up? What’s the point of it all?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. The 60 posts you need to respond 2 can go to about half a dozen an you can work others into a rotation. It’s like the old 80 20 rule. 80% of the stuff you really give a poop about come from 20% of what you get delivered. So whack it down to manageable. If it isn’t fun, educational or paying, ignore it.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Back in the late 90s business people adopted ‘mea culpa’ for that. I didn’t care for that one, either. Seeing some big, burly Southern guy go all hangdog and say ‘mee- uh coolpa, y’all’ was too much.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. What’s even worse than someone not reading to the end is when they totally miss the point of what little they did read. Or it’s like the written version of when you’re conversing with someone, and they ask how you are, and you barely say a word before they launch into a monologue about themselves.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “…and they ask how you are, and you barely say a word before they launch into a monologue about themselves.”
      Tht right there is he beauty of dialogue in fiction. Most of the time no one is listening, they’re formulating what they’re going to say next, relevancy be damned. My first editor (that was a real editor) told me that. Early on I did all sorts of real dialogue things like call and response, etc. She told me the whole point of dialogue was wht should be said, not all the bunny chasing and shaggy dog story nonsense that goes on in real life, as you mentioned. How’s that shoulder? Well, for titanium I guess it’s – Oh GAWD, my mother-in-law can’t get through an airport any more without setting off a million alarms. Will she tell anyone upfront? No. I say it’s for all the attention, forget how she’s screwing up the line for just everybody. Did you cut your hair? Did I tell you about my Nancy’s new job? That’s right, like finally, right? Anyway …
      The ones that kill me are the one-sided phone conversations, no implied or real racism, that black chicks have in public…Right. An I say well, whatever, you know, an she sayin’…right. An then I say whatever an…right… An then she sayin’ well? You know…right…an I say whatever girl, and she sayin’…right…you know…
      Missing the point is a pastime of mine. Probably because I read through what’s on the page at the message. Which is why it’s difficult for me to find authors that suspend my disbelief with either skill or storytelling. The plethora of hacks out there is apalling.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You bring up a good point–it takes skill to cause one to suspend their disbelief, such that dialogue that doesn’t work in real life works best in the story and sounds more natural somehow.


  4. That read like you hacked apart a valet robot; it then reassembled itself as a Roomba that sucks whiskey and likes to polish tea kettles using mustache wax.

    Adjectives, Tolkien, primary colors — reader’s interpretation, got it.
    Skipping through dross and liking it?
    Email openings that are verbose, or not?
    Lists, or not, in character voice… What?

    I think the schlock that exists and thrives is due to people not knowing what constitutes good writing. I have an inkling, now, what quality fiction sounds like. School certainly didn’t instruct me in the art of literary critique. (I wonder why that is…?) As we (you and I) know, learning the feel of writing excellence parallels that of critical thinking — few learn to do it, fewer still learn it well. Is it any wonder that the masses, never taught, accept shit fiction?

    It’s been nearly five years since I set out to learn to write well. I can’t say I’ve benefited. But, like the pious being exposed to the false light of empty gods, realization dripping clarity into their eyes, once shown, ever tainted. Learning of the fool behind the curtain how can one’s naivety ever return?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes
      All of that

      I was fortunate enough to get Lit criticism (the academic definition) as early as eighth grade. My last two years of high school English were taught by college profs with a no nonsense class etiquette. Plus my Senior year I took three English, Great Books and Reading to Write because I had core credits in the can and was curious.
      Your one point in there about education has been, and was on my mind during part of that, down to vocabulary. Yeah, Stephen king writes on how to write, but there are people who were a long ways from being born when he first published and even further away from the sort of education he had, or we had. He writes for a literate readership. Do you know how narrow that niche is becoming? Cultural references over two weeks old are out. So we should only write that which matters. To quote Kerouac on one of your points –

      The taste
      Of rain
      —Why kneel?

      Liked by 1 person

  5. No one bothers to read? And here I thought it was just my target audience: The Gays.
    But, damn…not even when people are getting paid will they rise to the occasion?!? That *literally* sounds like an American phenomenon. Our blind quest to blithely ruin the world continues on!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tell a good story with a gay slant, or a gay lead. A friend of mine used to write brilliant vignettes based around Hispanic culture. Suddenly went full on Brown agenda and wondered where the old audience went. Duh.

      Liked by 1 person

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