Using Adjectives (#chuckthebland)

Adjectives are words that modify nouns. We use them often in everyday life to describe specific objects using their physical characteristics, ex) a blue pillow, the tall chair, a sketchy deal. When using them in writing, though, its easy to get carried away describing the flowing long blonde shimmering locks of her beautiful golden hair. 

Really, adjectives are great, but just like anything in writing, they must be used in moderation. Like adverbs, overusing adjectives is a sign of doubt and lack of confidence in your writing. Editing out adjectives is a great way to concise-ify your writing and make the piece stronger and bolder overall. Here’s some things to consider when cutting out adjectives

  • Too many adjectives in a row add unnecessary details that bog down the writing and bore the reader and can also lead to over description and purple prose.
  • Unlike the adverb/verb relationship, you can’t always cut out a noun and replace it with a “stronger” one, but you can make sure that the noun you’re using is the one best suited to what you’re trying to describe. Try to be specific with your nouns. Did you use “building” when you meant “corporate skyscraper” or “bungalow”?
  • Avoid clichéd adjectives like “rosy cheeks” or “sunny smile”.
  • The biggest thing to watch out for is redundancy. Don’t tell us it’s a “small ant”, we already know that ants are small.
  • Humans don’t notice everything about a place/scene/anything. We only notice things that are relevant. Is the adjective describing something relevant? No? Cut.
  • If you’re using a lot of adjectives because you need to in order to describe the scene and it is relevant, consider expanding it into more sensory imagery.

But when do you use adjectives?

  • Try not to use generic adjectives like “pretty”, “nice” or “great”. Don’t use “big” when you mean “enormous”. In writing, every single word counts. Bland adjectives just won’t cut it (unless you really actually do need a bland adjective, but you should be aware of that).
  • A rule of thumb: describe, don’t evaluate. Every adjective you use should contribute to the description of the noun in an new way. If you use an adjective it should be one that doesn’t normally apply to the noun it’s modifying.
  • Learn to spot the difference between unnecessary adjectives and important details. Specific details should, in some way, contribute to the overall mood, characterization or description while unnecessary adjectives can be cut out without changing the meaning of the sentence.
  • Remember that more adjectives, used correctly, can slow down the sentence, lengthen the pace and contribute to a longer, more relaxed tone.

As with all things in writing, it’s about learning to strike a balance between enough description and too much. Relevant details and unnecessary information. Cutting adjectives is one more step towards write concisely and powerfully.

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Scenery (#thebackdrop)

A bright city scape or a sandy beach or an empty room are all possible places where a scene could take place. Of course, you’re going to have to describe these places so your readers aren’t blind, but you don’t want to over describe and bombard your reader. Here are some tips to consider when writing scenery.

  • Keep it relevant. Describe only the things that matter. Don’t go off describing the table cloth’s pattern unless it matters. How do you decide if it matters? Anything the characters interact with will be important and warrant some description. Also a quick introductory description is needed when a character is introduced to a new setting.
  • Make it real. Make sure that your descriptions are true to the place you are describing.
  • Don’t over do it. Keep your descriptions of a place to the point. More than a paragraph will have your readers skimming or even skipping over the description. A paragraph will probably be enough to introduce your reader to a new setting. Additional description, if needed, can come in spurts between dialogue or when the characters interact with objects.
  • Capture the atmosphere. Making description work is important. Try to find the right words that will convey the setting’s atmosphere or even what will happen in this setting. Clues like that will help the reader settle into the setting and give them a heads up as to what is happing or what will happen.
  • Be vivid. Use strong, colorful words to portray the setting. Don’t call it “beautiful” or “ugly” or “run down”. Show the shutters tapping against the sides of the house or the golden light skipping across the tops of the waves. Be as vivid as possible with the strongest words as possible. However that doesn’t mean go to a dictionary or a thesaurus and pick the longest or most complicated word. Choose words that are strong, but that fit.

Adding in colorful words to describe the story’s scenery will give the reader a clear picture of your story. Keep these tips in mind when revising so your descriptions are concise, yet vivid. 

Killing Characters (#thefinalblow)

It is within almost every writer to think about killing a character. You should consider the pros and cons of killing a character before doing so. If it’s not thought out the death can seem arbitrary and pointless to the reader. Here are some things to consider:

  • Don’t kill a character just for shock value, or because you feel like you need to kill a character. If you’re considering it, pull out a sheet of paper and write down the pros and cons. (How will it affect the plot? The main character? The side characters?)
  • Don’t kill a character at the end of your story because you think it could be meaningful. Some deaths at the end of a story can be meaningful and have some impact on the reader, but if you’re not going do it because it’s right for the story, then don’t do it. Besides there are other types of endings that can have a much greater impact than killing a character.
  • Don’t kill a character because you don’t like them or got tired of them. If you don’t like a character, don’t kill them off with only that reason in mind. If you really don’t like a character, just rewrite your story without them.
  • Make sure the timing is right. Try not to kill characters at the beginning of a story. However, if that death is an important motivator for your main character, then do so, but make sure to form some sort of connection with the reader and that character.
  • Always keep in mind that death is messy. I’m not talking physically (though that’s true), but emotionally. You characters are going to have different reactions and there is going to be some sort of grieving process. Don’t leave any of this out, but don’t get into every detail. Leave in what is needed and cut what isn’t. Also, don’t forget that this death is going to have some sort of impact in the way of character development.
  • Have a very good reason to kill a character. It could either be to further the plot or to further your main character’s development. It could be for any reason BUT make it a good one.
  • Don’t kill a character to make the point that death is meaningless. Please, do NOT do this. Don’t. This reason will just take away from your story. On this note don’t kill a character to make philosophical statement. Again, this could take away from your story.

Please, carefully consider all possibilities and reasons for killing a character. If you’re not sure, make a list of the reasons why the character can’t die. If one of them is enough to make you reconsider then don’t kill your character.

Any thoughts, comments, other reasons for not killing a character? Send us an ask or email us at

Also, if you’d like to submit a prompt to this topic, you can submit one.

Theme (#teachbigquestions)

Welcome back to your high school lit class. Today we’re going to talk about themes.

What is a theme? The theme of your story is usually the lesson that you are trying to teach through the plot and/or characters. The theme can usually be summed up in one or two sentences such as:

  • Money can’t buy happiness.

  • What goes around comes around.

  • The ends justify the means.

Not all stories have a theme, some stories have more than one theme. It’s also possible for a story to show opposing themes without emphasis on either one.

Generally, though, you want to choose a theme and stick to it throughout the story.

Building a theme is usually relatively simple. For instance, if I wanted my story to show the theme “Honesty is the best policy”,

  • Have your character act in relation to the theme. In this instance, perhaps the character lies about something

  • Show the consequence of that character’s action. For example, the character’s lies snowball out of control, ultimately causing him to lose his closest friend.

  • Show the flipside. Here, the character goes to their friend, tells them the truth and the friend decides to forgive them.

  • Rinse, repeat.

Of course this isn’t a set recipe for demonstrating a theme, just a simple formula that can help you out if you’re stuck.

One thing to think about if your story has a theme is, if it fits within the genre of your story and the audience you’re writing for. If you’re writing a children’s book you’re probably not going to want to teach them that crime pays or that all humans are selfish jerks. Likewise, certain genres lend themselves more easily to certain themes, though they are in no way limited by them.

And finally, while it’s totally fine to build your story based on a certain theme, don’t let that be the singular driving factor, because it will show. Theme is important, but it’s just as important to think about your plot and characters and make sure that they aren’t flat just because you’re rushing to teach the reader a lesson.

The read more about theme in relation to a specific work of literature, click here.

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Walking Away

A lot of times giving up and walking away from something are considered to be the same thing. They aren’t. Giving up implies that a task that could be done became “too hard”. Usually emotion is what fuels the decision to give up—you got frustrated or angry. However, walking away from something is a different story all together. Walking away from something should not be fueled by emotion. Emotion can certainly be involved, but it is a logical decision that whatever you’re working on is somehow hindering you.

Personally, I have had to walk away from a story—two, in fact. It’s not a fun decision and it doesn’t feel very good either. There are many different reasons why someone might set a story aside and here are a few.

  • The story is holding you back. There are many ways a project could be holding you back. It could be blocking your creativity or keeping you from maturing into a better writer. Usually this is a pretty good reason for walking away from a story.
  • You’ve lost the love and passion you had when you began. This is different from getting into a slump or not feeling inspired that day. If you hate the story and your characters, or the world you’re exploring, this might be a good reason to walk away. Granted, these feelings will have to be extreme and ongoing for a long period. (If you have any ounce of love for your story then work through it.)
  • You’re not ready to write the story or the story isn’t ready to be written. This may seem like an odd reason, but sometimes a story just isn’t ready or you’re not ready. This could be because of a variety of reasons. It might be because you aren’t where you need to be as a writer to write the story or the story hadn’t quite developed itself yet. This is one of the hardest reasons for walking away and if it’s your only reason, it may not be enough to decide to set the story aside.

These are three major reasons why walking away from a story might be a good idea. Making the decision to set a project aside is a huge choice to make. It is something that must not be taken lightly. Finishing your projects is important. It teaches you dedication and how to work on the days when writing is hard. If you can finish your project, finish it. Always work like you are going to finish and try not to come into a project with the mentality that if it doesn’t work out you can always stop.

However, there are times when you need to stop working on a project. The decision will be a hard one to make and it won’t feel good at all. Try to remember that it’s okay. Many writers have had to put a project down. When or if you do decide to walk away, try to keep in mind that you might not be walking away from it forever. In a few years, or a suitable amount of time, you might find a better way of telling the story.

Don’t beat yourself up if you’re thinking about letting a story go. It’s okay. Don’t let that decision go with you into the next project and don’t let it affect how you see yourself. You are not a failure because you didn’t finish a project.