Writing Assignment: Write An Object Description Without Adjectives.

by Randy Murray on October 4, 2013

To write cleanly, sparely, is surprisingly difficult. When a writer attempts to describe an object, person, or place directly, it takes exceptional thought and concentration to keep that description from going overboard with little, unnecessary bits that clutter up the sentences and diminish the power of the description.

Adjectives are designed to aid in description. But for many writers, they muck up the writing, make it flowery, and do nothing to actually describe the thing. They become a crutch.

My creamy off-white Star Trek Enterprise-A NCC 1701 chipped and worn coffee mug now sits empty.

Add to that adjective clauses and phrases and you’ve got the bulk of most really bad writing. Strike them out and what do you have?

My mug is empty.

I’m not suggesting adjectives are bad. They are a critical component of writing. But by focusing on writing without them you can see their power, and perhaps, use them to full effect.

That’s what makes this next assignment so difficult and important.

For today’s assignment, select an object that you can see and touch and write a short description of it without using adjectives of any kind. You might have to read a bit of Hemingway to get the feel of it (and even Hemingway is not completely devoid of adjectives). It can become a powerful tool to focus your writing and let your own style unfold.

Here’s a short example I wrote for this assignment:

The sunlight comes through my window and falls across the chair. The leather is faded from too much of this same sunlight. There are scratches and scars from the cat and stains from coffee I’ve sloshed and spilled. The cat and I have done a number on it. But I still work here when my back won’t allow me to sit at one desk or stand at the other. I put my feet up on the ottoman, lean back, and, now supported, balance my laptop on my knees and find a spot where I can write for a while longer. If necessary, I’ll pull the curtains closed to shelter myself from the glare and write another page or two.

It’s damnably difficult to write this way and do it well. But I find it rewarding. Good luck with your try.

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