Few rules in creative writing are inviolate. This is true of the much-touted view that all adjectives should be eliminated from writing pieces. I maintain adjectives have an essential role to play in modern fiction. However, I do agree with Mark Twain’s words about the use of adjectives:
When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable.
The operative word is “most.” Of course we need to be selective and employ moderation in using adjectives.
Adjectives are words that modify nouns. Simple examples are small, purple, bald and foolish.These kinds of words are necessary in prose to help provide descriptions for the reader. In short, adjectives give us more information about people, places and things that enable us to understand and form a clearer picture of them. A well-placed and specific adjective can strengthen or clarify an image.
The key is, adjectives should be used only when they highlight something the noun can’t highlight. For example don’t use the adjective “high” to describe a skyscraper. The noun, skyscraper, already conveys the idea of height. On the other hand, a moonlit meadow is a good use of the adjective, “moonlit.” It lets the reader know it’s a clear evening in the meadow.
In narratives, it’s important to use strong adjectives rather than broad, meaningless adjectives such as beautiful, pretty, horrible, pleasant, wonderful. However, broad adjectives do work well in dialogue. “‘I had a wonderful time this evening,” Mary said.” This contributes something important to the story.
Specific adjectives eliminate vagueness when used to describe places, people or things. Use them, but choose strong descriptors that create a vivid image for the reader.
Adjectives have their place in modern fiction. Just remember to choose them carefully and use them sparingly.