Monday, June 13, 2011

Put Some Life In Your Adjectives

Someone in my critique group sent a clever poem she hoped to submit for a special themed magazine. Lots to like in her poem, but I noticed that in three successive lines, she used a color. Red, pink, and blue. Nothing wrong with that. They are all colors, but they're pretty generic when used to describe something to a reader. In this case it was red lips, pink cheeks and blue eyelids.

Why not vernillion or scarlet lips? How about blush rose or rosy cheeks? Maybe the eyelids could have been cerulean or aquamarine. They all indicate the color but they seem to have a little more life to them. It's not going to make or break her poem if she doesn't change the color names, but it may make it more interesting to the reader.

I wrote a poem about a visit to Claude Monet's gardens in France, and when I changed the color names of flowers in my revision, I liked the result much better. I changed them after a few who critiqued the poem had suggested doing so.

It's not only poetry that will benefit from adjectives that have some life to them. Go through your prose and mark the adjectives, then see if you might change some to add a little zip to your prose. Look for words that describe but do so in a so-so way in the original writing.

Instead of saying "She ate a very big dinner" why not try something like "She ate a gigantic dinner." or "She ate a gargantuan dinner."

Rather than saying "She buried her nose in the yellow flower." try, "She buried her nose in the tawny bloom."

The right adjectives can bring a lot to your writing. Experiment with them, revise some of your older pieces as an exercise. Put some life in your adjectives. Just don't overdo it!


  1. I agree. It really does make a difference. Thanks for the reminder.