Friday, November 10, 2023

Friday Writing #102: Adjectives or not?

Hello again, dear Wordsmiths!

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received about crafting poetry was, ‘Beware of adjectives.’ It was explained to me that they tend to weaken a poem. The nouns have more impact when they stand alone. It's much the same with adverbs. Of course, the same applies to writing prose.

I found it excellent advice. I’ve been following it for decades, and for the most part it holds true. However, it’s dangerous to treat any advice about writing, no matter how good, as an inflexible rule. There are always exceptions, and the exceptions can be brilliant.

Take this piece by Robert Browning:

Meeting at Night

The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed i' the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, thro' its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!


It benefits from the exactness and sensuality of his adjectives, bringing the scene to life not only visually but also by evoking sound and touch. That word 'slushy' has all three! Even the metaphorical 'startled' arouses sensual images.

Or listen to Richard Burton reading aloud Dylan Thomas’s play, Under Milkwood, with its plethora of adjectives piled on adjectives – rich, unusual adjectives, quite over-the-top, and wonderful audibly as well as visually and imaginatively.


So, for this week’s optional prompt,  I invite you to ignore the writing advice warning us against over-use of adjectives (and adverbs) and instead really go over-the-top with them to produce something that’s a joy to read.

Guidelines: 369 words maximum, verse or prose, new or old, one piece per person, and link to it below. You are very welcome to link to this post at your blog.

You may also leave us a message here, in our Comments section. Do you have your own favourite pieces of advice about writing? We'd love you to share them!

Next week our Magaly will invite us to write poetry or prose which explores current Global Issues through fairy tales (let the retellings be bright, be dark, or be both).   


  1. Oh sorry everyone, we have had a thunderstorm here so I turned off wfi and devices. Will catch up now with your posts.

    1. I posted my poem about "this moment".
      Hope all is well now at your place.

    2. Thanks, Anita. Yes we survived the storm.

  2. The superabundant well-placed adjectives brilliantly set a "bible black" scene, although Richard Burton's powerful rich voice and annunciation can bring a phone book to life.

    1. Ha ha, yes you're right! However, he had excellent material to work with here.

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  4. I have posted a Remembrance Day poem in response to this provocative prompt. Thank you, Rosemary.
    My favourite Browning is "A Toccata of Galuppi"

    1. Smart Text (or something) insists on changing my name! It's Westenra, geddit? (As in 'Hayley' and 'Dracula'!!)

  5. I love adverbs and adjectives so this post is right up my alley!!


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