Vern's Verbal Vibe

Singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist and purveyor of folk 'n' roll: spirit-filled sad songs made better.

December 31, 2011

Avoiding Tired Adjectives

"My date with Gia was amazing."
"Peter's sushi is just incredible."
"My shopping trip to New York was so totally awesome."
"Oh, my God, St. Lucia is, like, beautiful."
"This is our dream home. It's unbelievable."

Yes, my day gig as a closed-caption editor offers ample opportunities to transcribe words better suited to the Shady Pine Rest Home for the Lexically Moribund. Of course, we all use them in everyday life, where the demands of extemporaneous speech compel us to reach for the easy, accessible descriptor. But we needn't write like that. (Unless we're captioning "reality" TV, in which case it's perversely satisfying to let these jus'-plain-folks blather on in their ten-word-vocabulary glory.)

I recently scoured my manuscript for overused words like these and was able to replace or eliminate the bulk of them. Judicious use of a thesaurus helps, but at times a complete reconfiguration of the sentence is in order. If the offending word truly belongs—for example, if I've written a character that really would say "so totally awesome"—I'll leave it. And sometimes, a bland adjective like "great" may well be the best choice. Regardless, my aim is to write lively prose that serves the story.

A word of caution: be sparing, lest you meander into purple-prose territory. I don't want my work to read like Jane Austen, but neither do I want it littered with amazings, awesomes and beautifuls simply because I was too lazy to find worthy alternatives.

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