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Adjectives & Adverbs Vs. Metaphors & Similes

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  #1  
Old 10-28-2008, 09:31 AM
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Icon1 Adjectives & Adverbs Vs. Metaphors & Similes


During my editing process, I've come across many sentences in my story that need to be changed. I've noticed my severe dependency on modifiers (adjectives, adverbs, etc).I know this cannot be a good route to take. So I'm looking for some info:

How much is too much? Too little?
When should you use modifiers?
What about cliches?

I've also heard that using metaphors or similes is a better choice. If so, why? And how do you turn a "modified" sentence into a metaphor/simile?

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Old 10-28-2008, 10:38 AM
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Adverbs tend to stick out and weaken sentences if used too much. In my editing process, I'm weeding out all of the adverbs I can and replace them with stronger verbs that will do the job much better. In some cases, an adverb can't be avoided (no other way to describe something) or a single one in a particular spot can have a hard hitting effect. Use them too much, and the effect you're looking for in that spot is lessened.

Adjectives, same thing really. Stronger noun/verb combinations tend to make the voice active.

However, adverbs and adjectives aren't all bad. The frequency of use is what bogs the reader down and forces them to wade through a lot of verbiage that could otherwise be applied in stronger ways.

Cliches? Avoid them like the plague. Lol. Actually, if a character speaks using cliches, then that's perfectly fine. It's part of the character. If you can find a different, fresh way to state a cliched meaning in the narrative, then it's probably best to do it. But, again, sometimes it's not always possible to reword a meaning when the cliched phrase fits it best. And people are familiar with them, too.

Moderation is the key, if you use any at all. And by moderation, you probably don't want to use cliche phrases every chapter or every other chapter. The reader will discern these and probably get turned off by them.

And what do you mean about a "modified" sentence? Using metaphors and similes are good, but again, moderation is the key. Overuse them, and your writing will become stale.
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Old 10-28-2008, 10:52 AM
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To answer your questions:

How much is too much? Too little?
It's too much when it calls attention to itself, I think. Since you noticed it when editing (when the flush of new creation was passed!), it probably needs some work.

When should you use modifiers?
Modifiers, in balance with other things, are your friends! It's not a matter of deleting one form of description to add another, it's a matter of choosing carefully from many options. English has an incredibly rich vocabulary, so you have a lot of options indeed!

So, a little review...

Adjectives tell us about nouns.

The pretty girl danced.
The girl is pretty.

Adverbs tell us about verbs or about adjectives. (Oh, and you've got adverbs of time and manner, but they're not really descriptive.)

The dog ran quickly.
The dog quickly ran.
The superficially pretty girl danced lightly.

Similes and metaphors compare one thing to another. Similes use "like" or "as", and metaphors don't.

The girl danced like a butterfly.
Moth-like, she was drawn to the sparkling lights.
He was as limber as a gymnast.

What's that light over there? Oh! It's the east, and Juliet is the sun. (paraphrased!)
He was true north; everyone looked to him for direction.

Strong verbs!
People often forget this one. Compare the following sentences:

He turned the corner.
He negotiated the corner.
He crept around the corner.
He puttered around the corner.
He went screaming around the corner.
He threw himself around the corner.
He hurtled around the corner.
His wheels clung to the corner as he hurled the car around it.

Varied sentence structure
He turned the corners at breakneck speeds. (Prepositional phrase)
Careful and canny, he made his plans. (You can modify at the start of the sentence.)
Moseying over, the smiling man patted her hand.
The politician, he of the firm grip and the slippery tongue, took the stage. (Appositive)

Looks like Devon's sorted the cliche thing!
Hope that helps!
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Old 10-28-2008, 11:00 AM
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Looks like another well explained bit by you that needs to be added to our Ref Room, HoiLei!
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Old 10-28-2008, 11:47 AM
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HoiLei--
Your message was great! Examples are the most helpful way to explain things.
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Old 10-28-2008, 11:49 AM
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Devon--
What I meant by "modified" sentences was sentences that are full of modifiers. How can you take them and convert them into similes or metaphors by basically using the same words or ideas? (sorry if it's complicated, I typed it really fast).
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Old 10-28-2008, 11:56 AM
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Ah, I see! So modified, not as in a sentence that has been changed. Got it. The quotation marks should have been a clue, eh?
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Old 10-28-2008, 12:19 PM
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Cliches are the scorn of publishers worldwide. Should you avoid them like the plague? No, you should banish them completely from your work and leave no trace of them ever being there! Except in dialogue - then it's okay.

Adverbs - Depends on how they're used. If you're just using an adverb so you can use a weak verb without thinking, that's just lazy writing. If they're used properly, they add substance. For example: I was seated on a chair that was remarkably uncomfortable and left alone.

Adjectives - These are the ones that can't be avoided. They're describing words. You need them in your novel.
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Old 10-28-2008, 01:49 PM
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Originally Posted by writebunny View Post
When should you use modifiers?
What about cliches?

I've also heard that using metaphors or similes is a better choice. If so, why? And how do you turn a "modified" sentence into a metaphor/simile?

Adverbs/adjectives: try taking them all out of a piece of your writing. Every single last one. Then reread; you may well find that the writing is strengthened and tightened by their absence. Less is more.

Metaphor/simile? If you don't understand them, don't use them. There's nothing worse than a forced or misplaced simile.

It looks like you're looking for ways to embellish your writing. Don't. Concentrate on developing your own style, and keep it simple.
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Old 10-28-2008, 02:13 PM
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Originally Posted by Mike C View Post
Adverbs/adjectives: try taking them all out of a piece of your writing. Every single last one. Then reread; you may well find that the writing is strengthened and tightened by their absence. Less is more.
Wouldn't doing this just leave me with simple and mundane sentences?
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Old 10-28-2008, 02:53 PM
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Originally Posted by Devon View Post
Looks like another well explained bit by you that needs to be added to our Ref Room, HoiLei!
Aw, gee... *blushes bashfully*
Originally Posted by writebunny
Wouldn't doing this just leave me with simple and mundane sentences?
Try it and see if it suits you. If not, try something else. It's a stylistic thing and a taste thing.

For style, think about the goal of your writing. Taut, unadorned sentences can vibrate with tension. They are great for describing action. Longer sentences and embellishment can give the impression of lots of time, elegance, etc. You can use them both in one work if you need too. I'm reading Hamlet right now and I think it's pretty cool how Shakespeare uses short sentences for tension in the opening scene. Then, later, he gives King Claudio super-long sentences that suggest a deceitful, rationalizing mind. (Of course, that's a play, but there's no reason you can't use the same tools in a slightly different way.)

Think about taste as well. Some people enjoy reading rich language and others don't. Think about what you like to read and what suits your story. There are good writers of all types and tastes.

I'm glad my previous post was helpful! I learn best with examples, too!
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Old 10-29-2008, 04:37 AM
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Originally Posted by writebunny View Post
Wouldn't doing this just leave me with simple and mundane sentences?
Possibly, but how can you make the judgement without trying? And simple sentences are not necessarily mundane.

Many modifiers are just plain redundant:

She ran quickly across the yard.

Quickly is just a waste of space. Nobody runs slowly. If you want to reinforce the speed she travels at, look at using a different verb, not modifying one that's not right. She can sprint, jog, hurtle like a runaway train (note the simile) or stroll, wak, amble... try to avoid using modifiers when a stronger verb will work more effectively.
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Old 10-29-2008, 04:44 AM
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Originally Posted by HoiLei View Post
I'm reading Hamlet right now and I think it's pretty cool how Shakespeare uses short sentences for tension in the opening scene. Then, later, he gives King Claudio super-long sentences that suggest a deceitful, rationalizing mind. (Of course, that's a play, but there's no reason you can't use the same)
Using sentence length to give pace and tension is an excellent tool which I use (sparingly). Dean Koontz is a master of the technique. He will often start a scary passage with short, clipped sentences. as the tension increases so does sentence length until the final "Oh my god its so damn scary all the words just flood out in a panic-stricken stream of consciousness run away, run away, help me help me kind of terrified babble". Much like the mind works when under extreme duress.
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Old 10-29-2008, 05:12 AM
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Using sentence length to give pace and tension is an excellent tool which I use (sparingly). Dean Koontz is a master of the technique. He will often start a scary passage with short, clipped sentences. as the tension increases so does sentence length until the final "Oh my god its so damn scary all the words just flood out in a panic-stricken stream of consciousness run away, run away, help me help me kind of terrified babble". Much like the mind works when under extreme duress.
What an awesome technique! *files away into brain for later use*
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Old 04-03-2013, 02:33 PM
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In my opinion, writers should write and leave editing to the editors. When we focus all of our mental juices on whether or not to use a serial comma or if we have formatted our em dash correctly, we take loose time we could be spending writing. People pay (hopefully) writers to write, and I chose to pay editors to edit. Just make sure you're not wasting your money. If any editing company tells you they can get your 75,000-word manuscript back to you in 48 hours, they're definitely not giving it the attention you really want. And if they outsource to India or the Philippines…well, that's your call. When I consider the money I've spent on editing, I look at it like putting high-grade fuel into a sports car. If my work is a jalopy, then I'll get the cheap stuff, but if I'm proud of what I've created and want someone to take the editing process as seriously as I take creating my art, I go ahead and spend a few extra dollars.

I'm not endorsing any particular company, but I do try to stay away from the big box, factory editing services. Also, not sure if anyone else has heard, but Lulu's gone the way of the vanity press and partnered with Author Solutions, so think twice before you pay for an ESL editor. I've used a group called Pressque in the past and have been more than satisfied with their work, but always do your research.
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Old 04-04-2013, 02:52 AM
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Originally Posted by ClichedOut View Post
In my opinion, writers should write and leave editing to the editors. When we focus all of our mental juices on whether or not to use a serial comma or if we have formatted our em dash correctly, we take loose time we could be spending writing.
If you can't use language to its best advantage, and don't know or care if your sentence will work better, or convey a different meaning, if you choose a semi-colon over a comma, or one word over another, and rely on somebody else to do it, you're at best a hack and have no business calling yourself a writer.
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