Writing Without Adjectives and Adverbs

Tips for using fewer words for greater impact

I am not against adjectives or adverbs.  They can help emphasize a point.  Add cadence and flow.  Even create a poetic feel to dialogue and narrative.

However, sometimes adjectives and adverbs can do the opposite.  They can bog a story down, hinder the flow of a sentence, or even detract from the point being made.  Moreover, especially for screenwriters and playwrights, word counts are so incredibly limited, that conveying a point with one word instead of two can be crucial.


One tip is to find words that eliminate the need for an adverb or adjective.  Find the word that does the job of both verb and adverb (or noun and adjective, etc.).

This isn’t always possible, but turns out there are a lot of verbs and nouns that actually don’t need  adverbs or adjectives.  So, if we search the English language, we can usually find one word that does the work of two or more.   And depending on the passage, using that single word can have more impact and actually convey more meaning.

Some examples:

A dark blue sky = An indigo sky

She looked annoyingly at = She glared at

He walked quickly = He sprinted, or he dashed, he darted

However, it’s not just about brevity.


The one right word can convey more than just meaning and intent, it can convey tone and emotion.  How?  Because a lot of words in the English language have the same basic definition, but a totally different feel.

Consider these four words:





Now  consider the difference in these two sentences:

“The coffee’s aroma filled her senses.”


“The coffee’s odor overwhelmed her.”

Technically the same action in happening.  But the insight into the moment, the coffee, and the character are entirely different.

If a character “breathed in the aroma of the freshly ground coffee” you’ll probably get an entirely different image than if the character “inhaled the odor of the newly ground coffee.”

We don’t need an adjective to tell us if the coffee smelled good or bad.  We don’t even need to explain if the character liked the smell or not.  By selected the correct words, we can use fewer words.

Or, how about: 

“She looked up at at the dark blue sky”


“She peered at the indigo sky”


“She gazed at the sapphire sky”

In each case the character is looking at the blue sky. But by choosing more specific and unique words, we elevate the narrative and make the sentence more evocative.

So, to summarize: there is definitely a time and place for adjectives and adverbs.  They can help emphasize, help poeticize, and help pace a moment and a sentence.  But removing them can do the same thing.  It just depends on the sentence and the story.  But being aware of them can help you utilize them (or not) to your advantage.

Remember: Fewer words can carry more impact.  If they are the right words.  

post by Ann Marie Williams © 2022