Fewer adjectives, please!

Michael Stuart Kelly

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Fewer adjectives, please!

Sometimes you find a golden nugget of wisdom in the oddest place. I found one such nugget looking at copyrighting for commercial purposes. The advice I found is useful for all writing, including fiction. Especially for fiction.

The trick is to replace adjectives with verbs. This not only shortens your text, it gives it far more impact.

There is a quick audio podcast (a little over 5 minutes) by Alex Mandossian on "The Wednesday Minute" blog called How to Instantly Boost Copywriting Pulling-Power. I highly recommend listening to this as a refreshing take on an old problem. He tells of an adman from the 60's who analyzed his failed campaigns to see what went wrong and discovered that they all had a high percentage of adjectives. This adman also analyzed Lincoln's Gettysburg Address and some other classics that have endured and discovered that they had a much lower percentage of adjectives than what he had used. (As a bonus, at the end, Mandossian discusses overcoming writer's block with the newspaperman's checklist: who, what, when, where, why and how. That's really great advice.)

Mandossian put together a list of what he calls "power verbs" from analyzing different materials and made it available to the public for downloading or printing: 104 Power Words. This is a PDF document, but it is only one page. He recommends reading the words out loud before starting to write, but I would not go that far. Just reading them over a few times should get the brain juices flowing.

I am almost tempted to put this list here on OL (since you cannot copyright a list). These kinds of sites often disappear over time. I have downloaded and printed the list for myself and I might put it here later. Still, Mandossian put real work into compiling it, so it is only fair that we get it from him so long as this does him some good.

I tried playing around with this idea for a while and I discovered that when you remove an adjective and replace it with a verb, you usually change other parts of the text. Mandossian mentioned "remarkable" as a typical adjective overused in advertising. Here is a phrase I devised.

This idea is one of the most remarkable concepts of the century.

When I looked at his list, I saw several verbs I could easily use: abolish, achieve, capture, deliver, leverage, etc. I settled on one that looked like more of a challenge: shatter. Here is what popped out, almost immediately when I started writing it:

This concept shattered mankind's long-held idea...

I have to agree, the second sentence is far superior in punch.

I like it! Er... dayaamm! Let me redo that evaluation.

I have to agree, the second sentence clobbers the first.



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