Tips to Improve Story Description When Using Adjectives

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Writers want readers to picture the multiple-faceted things in their stories. Try these tips on when to use adjectives and how many in an adjective string.

Evaluate the Need for Adjectives

 

  1. First, decide whether the object is worth highlighting.
  • Is it something you want the reader to picture and then move on?
  • Or does it need description to create a better visual for the setting?
  • Or is it important to the scene’s purpose?

Examples

* Cara opened the door and bustled her bags inside.

No adjectives moves the story along.

 

image by Prawny

* Cara opened the front door and bustled her grocery bags inside.

Perhaps the sentence is in a scene’s opening paragraph. The reader learns Cara enters the front of the house and she’s been to the grocery store.

 

* Cara opened the door and bustled her suitcases inside.

Use specific nouns when possible. Suitcases works without using adjectives, such as in traveling bags.

 

* Cara opened the men’s bathroom door and peeked inside.

If men’s was omitted, the reader would miss important information.

 

Do objects need more than one adjective?

 

  1. Two adjectives adjacent to the object (noun) separated by a comma can cause the reader to stop at the second adjective and reevaluate his image. His re-evaluation becomes cumbersome with a string of adjectives. Usually, one adjective works best.

Examples

* Cara opened the tall, massive door and hustled the inexpensive, jute gunny sack inside.

Pick one adjective for the door. Above, the reader imagines a tall door then stops to put heft on the door. To me, massive is the better descriptor. If tall is important, include tall in another sentence: The woman tossed the sack to Jack and closed the tall door.

The definition of a gunny sack is an inexpensive bag made of burlap formed from jute, hemp, or other natural fibers. Inexpensive is unnecessary. Jute may not be needed either.

 

* Cara opened the massive door and hustled the gunny sack inside.

This flows well and gives the reader good images.

 

Here’s another example. I’ll improve it by inserting and removing adjectives.

Example

Andy slouched in in his overstuffed, gray, faux-leather chair and wiped beads from his lip. Little moving air reached him from the cracked-open, sash window or the sweeping, blue fan in the left corner. What could he do to escape the heat?

 

Rewrite

Andy slouched in his faux-leather armchair and wiped sweat beads from his upper lip. Little breeze reached him from the cracked-open window or the sweeping fan in the corner. What could he do to escape the heat?

The paragraph is about how hot Andy is. I’ve edited the paragraph to focus on heat.

I added sweat to identify the beads and upper to dash the image of beads on his lower lip. I chose faux-leather from the adjectives describing his chair. The reader may imagine skin sticking to faux-leather in the heat.

I changed the noun, chair, to armchair to improve the image without using an adjective. I replaced moving air with the noun breeze to avoid another adjective-noun combination. I selected sweeping over blue for the fan because sweeping creates movement. I removed sash because it’s not important and slows the sentence. Likewise, I removed left.

Try these suggestions on using adjectives to improve your paragraphs. Click to tweet.

What might be an instance when two adjectives separated by a comma are needed?

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Suddenly unemployed, Allie Masterson returns home to Cary, North Carolina where she caddies for her father on the PGA Seniors Tour. There, she encounters a man who possesses an alluring gift of reading the contours of the green. Fascinated with his uncanny ability, Allie is excited to meet the Green Whisperer—until she discovers that the easygoing caddy is actually Shoo Leonard, the boy who teased her relentlessly when they were kids. Despite Allie’s reservations, when Shoo is faced with having to overcome a hand injury, she agrees to use her sport science degree to become his trainer…and then she falls for him.

 Shoo Leonard is grateful to Allie for her singular determination to get him ready for the PGA tour, but he isn’t ready for anything more. Still raw from a broken engagement and focused on his career, he’s content to be her fist-bumping buddy…but then he falls for her.

What seems like a happily-ever-after on the horizon takes a turn when Allie decides she’s become a distraction to Shoo’s career. Is it time for her to step away or can The Putting Green Whisperer find the right words to make her stay?

What’s Important in Writing Short Stories

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What’s Important to Consider in Writing a Short Story?

 

Writer’s Voice

  • Establish a strong, yet controlled, voice from the first line.

 Setting

  • Limit the length of days or weeks the story covers.
  • Research to find (or create) a distinct setting that supports the story’s tone and plot. Your setting research should color your story rather than drive the story.
  • Show the setting through characters’ actions. No word-gobbling descriptions.

 Plot

image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
  • Present an innovative and unexpected plot. Thoroughly imagine the whole story from beginning to end.
  • Know more about your story than your readers need to know so you can write a well-developed plot. The plot must have a beginning, middle, and end, but tell only enough of what you know to take the reader on a riveting short journey.
  • Focus on one conflict but make room for a small subplot to give the story some complexity and authenticity.
  • Don’t make the ending twist be your goal. The story must be about more than a gotcha.
  • Don’t set your story too far back in the protagonist’s life. Start after his life struggles heat up and as close to the climax as possible—when he takes a significant action toward his goal. Then advance to the conflict that creates the first obstacle to his goal. Conflicts leading to choices that lead to more conflict heighten emotional tension.
  • Infuse suspense so the reader constantly wants to know what happens next. Suspense is more than scary stuff happening.

 Characters

  • Introduce few characters and write from one character’s point of view. Your protagonist should be the one who makes choices and advances the story.
  • image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
    Let the reader know immediately what the protagonist wants. Make her desire fresh.
  • Develop your characters through actions, thoughts, and dialogue. Every line of dialogue must develop a character or advance the plot. No idle talk.

 

  • Create dynamic, authentic interaction between characters through their complex personalities. Your goal is to create memorable characters.

 Good Planning and Execution

  • Brainstorm an original title that compels readers to delve into the story.
  • Rein in the exposition and the backstory.
  • Make beginning and ending lines the strongest in your story. Usher the reader into the story with a surprise that indicates what the whole story’s about, and like a spell, beckons him to read on. Don’t drag the ending out. When the reader reaches the ending line, he must care about the protagonist’s choice and can’t stop thinking about the story—wanting more. Perhaps he sees something about the world differently.
  • Don’t detail characters’ movements or getting them from one place to another; use quick transition words (later).
  • Edit the story to be shorter, tighter, more compelling. Pay attention to language—to word choices and clarity. Eliminate redundancy and repetition.
  • Kill your darlings. Every sentence should develop a character, advance the plot, or be eliminated.
  • Remember, conciseness doesn’t mean resorting to telling rather than showing feelings.

Find out what’s important in writing short stories. Click to tweet.

What do you want from a short story?

Story Setting Part 2: Real vs. Fictional

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First off, remember from Part 1 that setting encompasses such elements as place, time, culture, technology, geography, and weather. Thus, you must decide whether any real setting can work for your story.

Of course, fantasy and sci-fi novels need extensive fictional world building.

Advantages of Real and Fictional Story Settings

 

Real Settings

  • It’s all laid out for you; a good map is a great help.
  • Places you know well facilitate writing the setting.
  • Your hometown makes research easy; everything’s a car ride away.
  • You can choose from many ready-made places to enhance the mood of your story. (For a somber mood, perhaps the rainy Northwest)
  • Actual places give readers a sense of authenticity within the fiction.
  • Places familiar to readers readily supply them with clear images at the story’s outset. Readers enjoy being transported to places they know.
  • Real places can help book sales to people who reside there or to visitors who’ve enjoyed the area.
image by VictorianLady

Fictional Settings

  • Anything goes, as long as it makes sense to the reader.
  • You can still employ a mix of real-setting features but give them fictional names.

 

  • You don’t have to worry about describing actual landmarks, weather, and geography that don’t live up to readers’ expectations or are wrong. 
  • You can develop the setting to fit the needs of your story: a local business, characters’ outdoor interests, and the area’s traditions.

Disadvantages of Real and Fictional Settings

 

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Real Settings

  You may offend readers who know or love the place, especially if you make statements they consider derogatory.

 You must get your facts right about all elements of the setting, such as geography, weather, and time period.

 You may expect readers to know renowned places as well as you do and unconsciously leave out descriptions they need.

 You could lose sales if book reviews say you did a poor job of presenting a country, state, city, or town.

 You may spend much time researching accurate details on a small town to satisfy only a tiny portion of your readers.

Fictional Settings

  • Developing all the elements of setting can be labor intense.
  • You must ensure the setting elements you develop don’t work against other elements in your story. (In an arid spot, you have the criminal bury body parts in lush parks around the town.)

 Combination Settings

 

Both cases require work, either in research or creating the setting. Perhaps employing a combination and using the advantages of both would help with the labor. You could create a fictional setting that is a composite of multiple real places to provide authenticity and the items your story needs. Or you might create a fictional place within a real country or state.

What to consider when deciding between a fictional or real story setting. Click to tweet.

How have you used fiction and reality in developing a book’s setting?