A plethora of adverbs, adjectives, gerunds & so forth.
Which one of these descriptive passages do you find easier to read? Which flows better?
Totally terrified, she ran through the forest of trees, her heart thudding loudly in her chest. Tripping and stumbling, she staggered onward, totally exhausted.
Filled with terror, she ran through the forest; her heart thudded in her chest. Tree roots almost caused her to trip, but she stumbled on, near to total collapse.
They both say the same thing, but the first passage is slowed down by overuse of adverbs and repetition. For instance the word “totally” is quite unnecessary; either’s she’s terrified or she’s not.
“A forest of trees?” This is an example of repetition; the word “forest” is sufficient to describe the character’s surrounding.
“Her heart thudding loudly in her chest?” This is definitely overkill. The word “Thud” indicates that her heart is racing with fear and sounds loud to her, as it will reverberate in her ears.
“Tripping and stumbling, she staggered onward, totally exhausted.” This sentence contains two gerunds, words ending in ing, and the adverb “totally”, plus repetition in the form of “stumbling, and staggered.”
When I first began to write, most of my descriptive passages were littered with overuse of adverbs, adjectives, gerunds and so on. They slowed the story right down and caused any readers I was lucky to get to give up. My writing was described as a “headache” and “like wading through treacle.”
Of course adverbs, etc, have their place; it’s impossible to do without them, but they should be used sparingly. The saying: “less is more” might be a cliche, but like most cliches, it’s also true. 🙂
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