Don’t Kill Good Prose with Bad Choices—Watch out for Those Life-Sucking Modifiers

The goal of almost any writer is to write—and write well. The first part is simple to understand and apply. All it requires is a little time and discipline. (Okay, I said simple . . . NOT easy. But that’s a post for another time) The second part is truly hard—mainly because there are so many definitions of what good writing is.
Let’s start with what good writing isn’t
  • It isn’t flowery or verbose.
  • It doesn’t attempt to prove the author’s intelligence by requiring a dictionary to read. (see previous point).
Simply put, good writing conveys the author’s intent clearly and concisely.
This means sentences full of adjectives and adverbs are a good writer’s enemy. It’s always better to use specific nouns and active verbs rather than rely on modifiers to convey your meaning. Let me show you what I mean.
Not: Stuart walked quickly across the yard.
Instead: Stuart darted across the yard.
Do you see how walked quickly is a poor choice? It’s much harder to visualize because it’s not specific. Darted is a much more visual choice.
But what about adjectives—don’t those add depth to writing? Only when used with care.
Not: The pale purple petals released their sickly sweet odor causing her over-active stomach to heave in revolt.
Instead: Lavender hyacinths added their odor to her already reeling senses.
The first sentence in this example may seem over the top, but I assure you it isn’t. I’ve edited hundreds of manuscripts filled with enough excess verbiage to fill a swimming pool.
So what can you do to help tighten up your writing?
First, be on the lookout for passive verbs. These encourage the use of adverbs.
SPECIAL NOTE: The verb was isn’t always passive tense—sometimes it’s past tense.
Second, double check your nouns—are they general, like flower or house? If so, choose a more specific word, like hyacinth or cottage.
Finally, practice your craft. There’s never a good substitution for actually doing the work.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t describe things, only that your descriptions should be tight. You want to provide enough information for the reader to get what you’re saying without boring them. Anytime a reader scans or skips over something there’s an issue. 
Now I’m curious. What are some things authors do that cause your inner eyes to glaze over?

Edie Melson is the bestselling author of Social
Media Marketing for Writers and a devotional for
military families, Fighting Fear: Winning the War at
Home When Your Soldier Leaves for Battle. She is
a prolific freelance writer, editor, and co-director of
the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference, as well a faculty member at numerous others.
Visit her popular writing blog, The Write Conversation