Thursday, October 6, 2011

"Too many adjectives"


There's a great bit in Becoming Jane where Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway) is writing to her sister Cassandra. She's describing Tom Lefroy (James McAvoy).

The scene ends with Jane's writerly verdict: "Too many adjectives." 

I once read, in some writing craft manual, that adjectives are lazy writing. Also, in writing class, I was taught that the word "just" should never be used. 

Really, where do people come up with such wacky declarations anyhow? 

How many adjectives are too many adjectives? Sometimes, it feel like there aren't enough. How can you describe the tone of someone's voice, for instance, when you hear it but don't know how to describe it? Is it husky or sweet or rich? Is it low or loud? Is there a scratch in it? 

Is it really even that important to a reader that they hear or see the character the way the author imagines them to be? Jane Austen describes her characters thoroughly--but not how they look or sound, but how they think. I'm reading Emma right now and I'm getting her psychology--spoiled rich girl, a bit naive, thinks she's a matchmaker--but I'm not sure what she looks like. 

For plot, the motivations and thought process of a character is important. But I think I tend to meet my characters from the outside in and while I don't do long paragraphs of "her hair was raven colored and thin, her eyes were large and limpid," there is a fair bit of physical description thrown in. That includes the way they move (I have one character currently described as getting off a horse "stiffly" because he's a sailor not a landlubber) and the way they speak (the more aristocratic characters have that very precise, very clipped way of speaking--to be honest, I have no idea if that's how they spoke the King's English in those days--but it's the way they speak it now, isn't it?)

I suppose this would be the blog question: 

-How important is description to you in terms of characters? Do you really care what they sound like or even what they look like? 
-Are adjectives annoying? 
-How many adjective are too many? 



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