In my real life, I find myself taking on various and assorted writing projects.  Some are technical, some are bureaucratic, rarely does something fall into the category of “creative.”  Whatever that is supposed to mean.  To me, it is all creative.  There’s a blank page, you fill it up with words.  If it is editorial work, you take the raw material and you create order.  Legitimately creative, if not sexy.

My most recent project has me writing about Ebola.  The chronically kind project lead took me aside and said, with the deepest of apologies, “I’m afraid this isn’t going to be very creative.  We don’t use a lot of adjectives around here.”

The poor little adjective.  Words or phrases intended to modify or describe a good, solid, unembellished noun; banished from “serious” writing, relegated to the creative, and then decried when over-used.  Why do they get excluded from one kind of writing, only to be worn out in another?

That’s a rhetorical question.  I didn’t promise anyone an answer, did I?

As with most things, moderation makes everything good.  Adjectives are a little like salt: in small doses, salt enhances the flavor that is already present.  Gives the taste of something structure, a little something to push up against, boundaries.  Too much salt, that’s the only thing you notice.

Adjective-heavy writing gets tedious.  She batted her misty blue eyes at him, focusing her heavy gaze on the tip of his pale, roman nose…  I can’t even come up with that much over-burdened writing without rolling my eyes.

This report will not be adjective- (or adverb-) free.

“Impassible roads.”

“Medical practitioners struggled to keep up with the immense case-load.”

“Unprecedented outbreak.”

I just can’t use adjectives or adverbs that are biased or overly emotive.

“Heroic health care practitioners.”

“Desperate orphans.”

Yeah.  It’s that last one that kills me.  Adjectives aside, I kind of want to drop everything, move to West Africa and become a professional child hugger.  An impractical impulse, strong as it is.  Instead, I found Child Fund and sponsored a girl from Sierra Leone.  They seem to be indifferent to religion and blissfully free of theological-strings-attached humanitarian assistance, unlike some of their missionary-on-tv counterparts.

Adjectives.  Go forth and use sparingly.  Children.  Consider sponsoring one.  I’m going to go back to writing about why a hemorrhagic fever doesn’t necessarily cause visible bleeding.


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