Recovering From Adjectivitis

Monday, November 25, 2013

What is Adjectivitis? It’s something that mainly affects new writers and yes, I suffered from it in the early stages of my writing career. As you can tell, the word is derived from adjective. For a quick reminder, see the definition and examples below that I used from the University of Ottawa’s Writing Centre site.

Regular visitors here will know that I got the rights back on two books the end of October. Having been notified of that prior to that time, I’ve been through Contraband several times already.  (I’m not sure why this link is still up, but anyway...) The editor was a pleasure to work with and helped to make the book better by asking questions that helped me clarify certain things in the storyline. However, as we all know, nobody is perfect. 

Contraband was a joy to write. I had the novel done in less than six months, but it took more than four years to edit it to the point where I thought a publisher would say yes. My style has changed a lot since the novel was published in 2010 and I’m a much better writer today. I do use descriptive words, but not so that they slow the narrative.

In doing those two edits, here are some of the things I caught, which made me cringe a little bit, but before we do that, my advice to you is to look for these things in your own work. They’re easy to miss if you’re not paying attention.  The ones below are redundant phrases which become habits if we’re not careful. See the thoughts I had when I saw these.

  • Paced back and forth (It’s kinda hard to pace in one place. Paced is enough to convey what’s happening)

  •  Direct eye contact (What other kind is there? Eye contact is enough)

  •  Quick glance (If it’s anything other than quick, it becomes a stare)

  •  Waved a hand at him/her (We wave with our hands, so adding the body part is redundant, unless the ‘waver’ is using something to wave with)

  •  Leaned over and (Just do it! Half the stuff our characters lean over to do can’t be done otherwise, so sticking in ‘leaned over’ and ‘reached for’ and ‘stretched out a hand’ is redundant and makes sentences longer)

  •  Lack of contractions (remember the ‘rule’ that said we shouldn’t use them. I was a big convert, but it leads to some stilted sentences.)

And some of those pesky adjectives that I loved so much:- octagon pavestones, rusty roof, narrow bed, highly-polished...what-not, gauzy, matching wrap, overstuffed chair, crowded nightclub, cement planter box...

Not to worry, the work is still descriptive, just not as weighed down with words. I’m happy with making a good book better. Contraband was a fast read to begin with. Now I’ve made it better.

More news to come on the re-launch. I’ve added the old cover and the new mock-up and yeah, I had to change the guy’s description a little bit. I also inserted a love scene that was taken out—nothing graphic, but just enough to keep things interesting.

So, the point of this post? Keep an eye out for crutch words that slip into your story and bung up the flow of the narrative. Be careful of words that convey a particular meaning that we make redundant, by adding to them eg. a kaleidoscope of colours.

 Do you tend to use too many adjectives or favourites phrases that can be left out? Any ‘rules’ you’ve found that just don’t work for you? Do share. 

Alex is posting today at the Insecure Writer's Support Group site and has tips on revisions after NaNo. The Facebook Group has grown to over 400 persons. Have you signed up in both places to help provide support for your writing pals?


  1. I wouldn't want to think what else they could be waving...
    I imagine if I went through my first book, I'd cringe as well.
    Now that I can see the two covers together, your new one is better.
    And would you believe that IWSG is my first writing tips post? Ever?

    1. Thanks, Alex. It's great that it's easy to make changes so quickly and easily these days. You done good with the writing tips post.

  2. Quick glance - we say these words so often that they appear in our writing too, and we do not notice them.

    It's wonderful to know you can resort to editing. Self-publishing gives that autonomy.

    I can see Contraband flying on to Kindles. The red and the black and the slanted letters... Dangerous. It will sell!

  3. Adjectivitis... LOL
    I like the new Contraband cover design - it's really effective!

    A rule against contractions? I never knew that. Maybe the rule applied with regards to certain writing styles or writing era?
    Contractions have their place. You can't rule them out completely. They are part of natural conversation. Keep it flowing.

    1. I think it's what most people were taught in grade school. That and to use adjectives and creative forms of said!

    2. Grade school rules... oh, okay, that makes sense. I remember that.

  4. Peaches, yeah, these phrases are creepers and we have many of them. As you know, many of us here say things like 'little, small car' and 'the exact same thing'. :)

    Michelle, yup, there was a time when too many contractions were frown upon. When I read through Contraband the first time the other day, I was surprized at the number of unnatural sounding phrases I had to change and to think I had them as contractions before. It doesn't pay to follow every 'rule' that writers are supposed to heed.

  5. As an editor, I'm astonished that writers know so few adjectives and use the same ones over and over. Golly the dictionary is packed full.
    awesome new cover Joy.

    1. Leslie, we do tend to get stuck on the same words and they appear religiously in our books. :) Glad you like the cover.

  6. Playing word search is my least favorite part of editing. I like the big picture things as well or better than writing the first draft. But the fine polishing makes me nuts.

    1. Same here, Carol, but what amazes me is that in the final read through, I can remember where I said the same thing in several places.


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