Developing Muscle

Published July 26, 2012 by Elsa Pla

Ursula Le Guin compares adjectives and adverbs to candy and warns us to not overindulge:

“I would recommend to all storytellers a watchful attitude and a thoughtful, careful choice of adjectives and adverbs, because the bakery shop of English is rich beyond belief, and narrative prose, particularly if it’s going a long distance, needs more muscle than fat.”

The following exercise is from her book Steering the Craft:

“Write a paragraph to a page of descriptive narrative prose without adjectives or adverbs. No dialogue.”

[Then, analyze the result:] “Would the piece be improved by the addition of an adjective or adverb here and there, or is it satisfactory without?”

The purpose of this exercise is to practice using strong nouns and verbs. That way, our use of adjectives and adverbs becomes intentional and artful.

My attempt:

The soldier marched to the top of the hill and observed the town below through binoculars. The sun was rising and a mist hung over the tops of the buildings. He listened and scanned the scene for evidence of life: people on their way to work, vehicles, smoke wafting out of chimneys, lights. A bird was chirping. Other than that, he didn’t see or hear a thing.

He waited for the sun to light the streets before descending the hill and entering the town. He stole through the stillness and the silence and stopped in front of a church.  Someone had boarded up the windows and bolted the doors. The soldier cursed. The fools had abandoned the town without setting the portal on fire. Now he would have to do it.

Okay, that was difficult. Now you try it! 🙂

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