Sixty second writing tips: stripping down the wording

One of the trends in written English over the last century or so has been the drive to strip adjectives from fiction.

This is me doing my 'writing getaway' impression on Rarotonga.
This is me doing my ‘writing getaway’ impression on Rarotonga.

It came out of journalism during the first years of the twentieth century and was made an art form by novellists such as Ernest Hemingway, whose plain-vanilla prose effectively defined the voice of modernism – of art deco.

Why does it work? Because if done right it forces the reader to think. Prose without adjectives is more likely to ‘show’; adjectives are a ‘telling’ word. And ‘showing’ is where it’s at, these days.

Stripping adjectives also helps remove –ly words from your writing. Words like ‘longingly’, ‘tellingly’, and so on – all of which are the assassins of active voice.

Active is also where it’s at, these days – and don’t forget, in this age of online publishing, the onus is on to write smart.

Do you consciously strip adjectives when you write? I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

Coming up: More writing tips, more ‘how tos’, humour, science and more. Watch this space.


8 thoughts on “Sixty second writing tips: stripping down the wording

  1. I agree about some ly words but there are others that writers use incorrectly, e.g., tight when it should be tightly or close instead of closely.

    Love your posts and all the info you pack into them! Keep them coming. I just may learn something that will stick in my head. I read so much that a lot of it just goes in one way and out the other. Your stuff is great!!

    1. It’s a conscious struggle for every writer – I often think passive voice lurks in every piece of writing, ready to pounce…kind of a weird mixed metaphor there but it’s true!

    1. It’s interesting how revising drafts can turn into an exercise in minimalism – true for all writers, I think (I hope!). Certainly for me – as with you – the “first draft” is like the rough cast, ready to be honed and polished down…and the adjectives are the first rough edges to go.

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