I turned into Crazy Dad last night while reading a book to my six-year-old. A reoccurring behavioral issue finally pushed me over the edge after it happened for the fifth time before I could finish a single page.
I slammed the book shut, placed it on my lap, and shouted “I can’t take it anymore! Why must every noun contain an adjective!”
Fortunately, my four-year-old was in the same room, and she was able to help my son calm me down enough to finish the chapter.
I won’t call out the book by name because this is such a common problem in books for his age group that it isn’t necessary. (Also, other than the adjectives, I am enjoying the book.) But the constant use of adjectives is distracting and, quite frankly, difficult to read aloud.
A majority of the adjectives are used in a lot of these children’s / middle grade books we read are unnecessary, and hurt the book by throwing off the pacing, or creating wordy, clunky sentences.
So while I was explaining the acceptable use and frequency of adjectives to my 6yo and 4yo why this is bad (yeah that’s how we spend our family nights) I figured out My 3 Simple Rules for Using Adjectives.
1. Make them relevant
Don’t tell me the sweater is blue if it doesn’t matter. Don’t tell me the scooter is red. Don’t tell me the recliner is brown. Unless any of those details affect the plot, leave stuff like that up to your reader’s imagination.
2. Use them sparingly
Don’t tell me about the squeaky floor, the creaking door, the foggy window, and the humming fan all in the same paragraph. My head will explode. If all of those details are necessary, then for crying out loud, show us! Nothing says “tell, not show” like the overuse of adjectives.
3. Don’t use them at all for obvious description
Don’t tell me the grass is green and the sky is blue. I already know that and it doesn’t have to be on the page. The old man’s thinning, grey hair? It’s assumed. The old man’s thick, jet black hair, however, would be worth mentioning.
Finally I should probably mention that this post focused only on adjectives, but a lot of this could be said about adverbs as well. That, however, is not a topic I’m ready to broach with the kids 🙂
So thanks for reading, and if you have any fun stories about reading to your kids, feel free to share them in the comment section at the end of the post!
Oh, and just for fun, I have to share that my kids now refer to that book as “The Adjective Book.” Scarred them for life, I have.