Adverbs and Adjectives

Back into writing exercises!

I’ve hopped back into doing writing exercises from Ursula K. Le Guin’s Steering the Craft.

Today, I did exercise five which involves writing a paragraph of descriptive prose without adjectives or adverbs.

Here’s what I realized:

  1. I need to brush up on my grammar.  Throughout the exercise I was asking myself, “Is this an adjective?”  And because I was actually sitting down and writing for the first time in ages, I really didn’t want to substantially interrupt the flow of writing to look up grammar rules.  So I didn’t.  But it made me realize that since I’ve been teaching Reading instead of English for the last two years, I’ve been neglecting my grammar knowledge.  I think I might start by re-reading a little Strunk and White.
  2. The point of the exercise was to make you more conscious of choosing strong nouns and verbs and making use of simile and metaphor instead of adjectives and adverbs.  I definitely concentrated on that, and more than once found myself trading out weak choices for stronger ones.
  3. My biggest dilemma in avoiding adjectives or adverbs was in describing color, material, size, and time.  You can see below in my sample that I slipped up quite a few times.  I figured I still got what was intended out of the exercise, and didn’t want the end product to read weird.  Maybe I shouldn’t care about the product if I’m just doing an exercise, but personally, if I’m making the time to sit down and write, then I want to be at least a little happy with the result.
Here’s a sample of today’s work:
The last time I’d traveled to London was well before my parent’s death, at least six or seven years ago.  I believe I was just ten years old.  The first shock that bombards my senses is the noise.  The din of the carriage that I’d thought was so deafening on the journey is nothing compared to the onslaught of sound that pours in as we open the carriage door.  Whistles of steam, the clanging of metal, bellows of men, and the clicking of gears surround me.  My head whips around as I try to find the sources of such noises.
“Come, Anne.  Or we’ll leave you behind,” my aunt snaps.
I hurry after her, already several paces behind after standing mesmerized by the cacophony.
As I weave between women wearing corsets and men in top hats, I run my hands over my own wool dress.  The color reminds me of a gray field mouse.  The plainness of it must stand out amid the jewel tones that are so clearly in fashion–I push through a sea of people in emerald silks and purple velvet.
Just as the crowd is beginning to be too much, just as my head becomes light and my eyes have trouble focusing, my aunt turns and climbs up a short flight of stairs to a rowhouse.

Feel free to try the exercise for yourself.  It’s harder than it looks  😉

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