When Two Adjectives Go Walking…

As I wrote in my last post, I’ve spent a fair bit of time this past week over at Critique Circle reading and commenting on various stories posted there. Of course this brings thoughts about improving one’s writing — which will now spill into this post.

I’ve posted my own story and gotten seven critiques. WONDERFUL! Being critiqued has been good for me. For one thing, I’ve had to go back to grammar books and other published authors to study up on the acceptable use of commas. Tricky little things. When it comes to separating clauses, there seems to be no uniform rule of, “Yes, one here,” or “No, none there.”

One of the things I often note in my critiques is the overuse and/or duplication of adjectives. Some genres tolerate more descriptive adjectives than others, but I do like the advice I once heard from some well known writer:
“Imagine you’re buying your story words for $1 each. You won’t want to buy more than you need.”

If you had to pay for words, you’d want to make sure each word is doing its job. You won’t want to pay for a bunch that need others to lean against because they don’t say enough on their own.

Mark Twain: “When you see an adjective, kill it.”

I’ve modified this bloodthirsty ink-thirsty version and adopted this maxim:
“When two adjectives go walking, flatten one.”
A little less gruesome, don’t you think?

Last year my husband enrolled in the Jerry Jenkins School of Writing and we both benefited from his lessons on “Becoming a Ferocious Self-Editor.” He gives demonstrations along with explanations, taking the first page of someone’s story and hacking it to pieces showing how it can be tightened.

When it comes to adjectives, he quotes another writing guru — sorry, I forget who — saying: “One plus one equals one-half.”
The idea being: when you use two adjectives, you weaken the effectiveness of both. Choose the most powerful and cut the other.

For example: The neat, tidy little cottage sat at the edge of a tenebrous, spooky forest.
I’d go with tidy, which means neat. A cottage is automatically little, so cut that, too.
Tenebrous means dark or murky — and dark murky places usually are spooky. Spooky places are usually dark and shadowy. Pick one or the other — preferably the one most people will understand.

Tom was a pompous, dictatorial boss who loved nothing better than ordering his cowering underlings around.
Dictatorial means ordering others around. Don’t throw this word away, though. Chances are, it will fit in nicely elsewhere.

Raiva was a loquacious chatterbox, always running on at the mouth.”
Here you have not only and adjective repeating the noun, but an adverb clause saying the same thing.
I’ve cut loquacious. Erudites like big, fancy words but the average reader may get a bit (cut qualifiers, too) ticked off if they have to stop and look up loquacious in the dictionary. A few fancies may be okay, but don’t make a practice of throwing in humongous, supposedly-impressive words.

I just read a piece which included the word pulchritudinous. My first thought was “ornery” but I decided to look it up and be sure. According to vocabulary.com:
“Even though it looks (and sounds) like it would describe a disease or a bad attitude, pulchritudinous actually describes a person of breathtaking, heartbreaking…beauty.”

Most readers will guess. They’ll read “Joe had a contentious nature.” And they’ll think, hmm… Sounds like content. Must be Joe’s easy-going.” If you do use an unusual word, give the reader a clue in the context.

But I digress. Let’s get back to Raiva the blab. Cutting the excess, all we have left is, She was a chatterbox. Or, Raiva was always running off at the mouth.

Instead of telling this fact, we could show it like so:
Pam and Bev sat in Bev’s living room drinking coffee when they saw Raiva coming to the door.
Pam nudged Bev’s arm and said, “Here comes Miss Mouthpiece.”
Bev rolled her eyes. “Gossip, her specialty.”
(Or, “Advice her specialty,” depending on which impression you want to convey. And check if it needs a comma after Advice. Or not?)

Mini Fiction Mix

For the past few days I’ve been choosing stories for my next book of mini fiction tales. Yesterday I applied for the ISBN. As soon as I get that lined up I’ll announce the title.

Some of the stories that appear in the fiction section here will be included in the book, such as the one about the Multi-tasking Motorist. And here’s one of my Friday Fictioneers posts that I’ve reworked and plan to include in the upcoming mix.

Harbour

Image from Pixabay

Harbour Secrets

From the third storey of the Customs Office Marv Sallens stared down at the busy harbour scene below, watching ships of every size streaming in and out of the busy port. “I wonder how many ships down there are running drugs,” he muttered.

Andy turned to his senior manager standing by the window. “What makes you…. Oh, hey. I’m really sorry, Marv.”

Marv gave a quick nod and turned to go, an icy anger replacing his usual grin. Stepping through the exit door he suddenly stopped and slammed his fist into the door frame.

Chance, the junior clerk looked up, shocked. Marv flexed his hand and walked out without another word. Chance turned to Andy. “What was that all about?”

“Last week they found Marv’s grandson and his fiancee dead in his apartment,” Andy explained. “They’d taken that new street drug…the one cops have been warning the public about.”

Chance swore softly. “I’ve heard about that one. Powerful…but I’ve heard it’s pretty risky. So that’s why Marv’s so torn up.”

“His grandson got his PhD this spring and just landed a great job. Apparently they were celebrating.”

Chance shook his head, seeing again Marv’s hand hitting the frame. He thought of his own parents, imagined how they’d react to something like that. A few minutes later he headed for the toilet…and flushed four white tablets.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Comments and critique welcome. 🙂

Wise-Crackers Everywhere

The Word of the Day prompt for today is UBIQUITOUS, so I’ll re-post this humorous item as my response:

Wise-crackers are ubiquitous. If you don’t believe me, just use a word with more than one meaning. Someone is sure to pop a joke on you.

If in sympathy for neighbour Mabel’s gout, I should happen to let slip a “Poor Mabel,” someone is sure to comment that “Mabel just got back from a two week trip to Bermuda. So she can’t be that poor.”

If I chance to say, “I forgot to feed the fish” I’m apt to hear, “Feed them to the cat. Then you’ll never forget again.”

The other day when I said I was going to pick up some flour at the store, dear hubby had to say it: “But not another African violet. We have a dozen already.”

Last week when I had such a nasty cold, I told my Dad that my nose was running constantly. “Better watch it,” he said. “If it takes up jogging you’ll really be in trouble.” You can just imagine what I’d hear if I admitted that my foot went to sleep.

Sigh…

Even the poor innocent children get dragged into this. My sister snickered when I told her “I sent some cookies with the boys in sandwich bags.” Really! She knew what I meant.

Last week we were invited to my cousin’s for supper. As we sat around the table, someone mentioned reading that City Council was hatching a plan for a new Civic Services Administration Building. Uncle Harry was right on it. “How many Counselors does it take to hatch a white elephant? And how are they going to pay for this?”

My cousin’s five-year old, eyes aglow, piped up, “They could sell rides on the elephant. Then they would get lots of money.” By now I’m sure the tots at her playschool have heard all about it and are clamouring for their white elephant rides. Which proves that old adage: Small pitchers have big ears.

Is there no nostrum, no magic elixir for this aggravating ailment? Yesterday I told a friend, “We had Joe & Jane for Sunday dinner.”

And she–my very best friend!–asked, “Baked or fried?”

The Write Practice Writing Contest

Attention Fellow Writers:

If you haven’t heard about the Fall Writing Contest starting soon over at the Write Practice, CLICK HERE to find out all about it. You start with a writing prompt, submit a draft, and get feedback from the writing community so you can polish your story before the final judges’ decision is made.

AND the folks over there are doing a special giveaway this time around. The entry fee is $50, but they are giving away three Premium Entries. If you share this info on social media, you get another “entry” for each friend who enters. (I’m not entering this year—other projects on the go — but I want to spread the word so you others can check it out.)

The giveaway will officially close on Tuesday, August 28, at midnight Pacific time, so if you’re interested in entering the fall writing contest, or other writing instructions and challenges, hop over to The Write Practice and read the details.

Mashed Up Musings

Rambling Thoughts on Genre Mashups

Puzzling.jpgYesterday over at The Write Practice, the subject was genre mashups, something I’d never hear of before — at least not by that name. The concept of taking a story and retelling it in another genre is familiar. For example, telling the story of Cinderella as a news report.

In this Write Practice post “The Magic Violinist” is suggesting mixing genres like fairy tale + sci-fi, romance + thriller, classic + contemporary. Oliver Twist meets his Mafia Godfather. That type of thing.

I read a book recently where one of the main characters is an author and in her novel Jane Austen is captured by space aliens. The title of the book will give a clue as to how successful she was at getting it launched. The Rejected Writers Book Club (Southlea Bay) by Suzanne Kelman is a funny, though none-too-believable, tale with a mixture of zany and normal characters. I found it delightful.

Mixing genres is an intriguing thought. Even in straight fiction, there are some tales I think would benefit from a dash of something else thrown in. For example, Wuthering Heights — one book I disliked extremely. I read the thing all the way through, hoping poor Heathcliff would get a grip, but there was just no improvement.

It’s billed as a romance — but I saw no actual love anywhere in its pages. Jealousy, greed, snobbery, obsession, fury, cruelty, revenge, yes. Love, no. I think Healthcliff might have benefited immensely by a visit from those three Spirits of Christmas who brought Ebenezer Scrooge to his senses in A Christmas Carol.

I think a lot of mashups of the old classics have already been done a zillion times. There are many contemporary, sci-fi, fantasy, and western versions of Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Pride + Prejudice, Romeo & Juliet, and Hamlet floating around.

Just for the fun of it, here are a few mashups I came up with:

Lord Peter Wimsey is sent to investigate the assassination of the King of Scotland and the murder of Banquo. He deduces from various clues that MacBeth is the guilty party…
or
Miss Marple, a good friend of Banquo’s widow, does some snooping and uncovers Lady Macbeth’s duplicity in the assassination of the king.

The Three Musketeers could be three university roommates who join together to prove their favorite professor, accused of being a spy, is innocent.

I’ve never read The Great Gatsby, and the synopsis doesn’t at all inspire me to start. However, one of the three male characters could meet up with the three spirits of Christmas and come to see the error of his ways, improving the sad outcome of that story.

On the humorous side, Bertie Wooster could meet up with Ebenezer Scrooge’s three Christmas ghosts and resolve to atone for his former self-indulgent lifestyle. He tries in his inept way to donate time + talent to some worthy cause, but Jeeves has to sort things out when they go awry.

Notes:

Cinderella, an old fairy tale, was recorded by French writer Charles Perrault
Oliver Twist is a classic novel by Charles Dickens
The Little Mermaid was a Hans Christian Anderson tale
Wuthering Heights was Emily Bronte’s only novel
Ebeneezer Scrooge is Charles Dicken’s notorious curmudgeon and tightwad
Pride & Prejudice was penned by Jane Austen
Romeo + Juliet, Hamlet and MacBeth were written by William Shakespeare
Lord Peter Wimsey was Dorothy Sayers’ famous detective
Miss Marple was Agatha Christie’s very successful sleuth
The Three Musketeers was written by Alexandre Dumas
The Great Gatsby was an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel
Bertie Wooster + his valet, Jeeves, were created by P. G. Wodehouse