I bought Super Scribblenauts Saturday, and started thinking about the beauty of adjectives. If you don’t know, Super Scribblenauts is the sequel to Scribblenauts; both are puzzle games for the Nintendo DS. The original was interesting enough. The game presents a problem and you have to solve it by creating what you need. Say you need to feed an assortment of animals. You would write in “steak” for the lion and “oats” for the horse. Then, an actual steak and a mound of oats appear on screen, feeding the lion and horse. Simple stuff. Well, the second game lets you use adjectives, where the first game only allows nouns. So, if you want to make a “pink winged fearless zombie unicorn,” you totally can.
The game obviously has limits. Gerunds can’t be used as adjectives. You can’t type in graphic material, like “poop” or “blood” or the terms for man parts. It’s a game for kids.
Super Scribblenauts opened up a new level of fun for me. I am a very imaginative person. Being able to think of a “golden tiny glittery yeti” and seeing it pop into existence is the coolest thing ever.
Also, in case you didn’t know, in a battle between Dracula and God, God turns into a vampire.
Most of playing the game is senseless fun, solving puzzles and making weird combinations. My favorite adjectives in the game so far are “rainbow,” “zombie,” and “giant” – relatively tame adjectives. I made a “rotten zombie pickle” which made no sense of course, but there it was, a sentient pickle that turned things undead.
So how does all this mesh with writing?
Adjectives are your friends in Super Scribblenauts, and they can be nice in writing, but it is possible to go overboard with them. For example, my pink winged fearless zombie unicorn – four adjectives in front of unicorn. It’s wordy. I obviously can’t break up strings of adjectives in the game, but in a sentence I can.
Instead, it’s a pink zombie unicorn with wings and a fearless attitude.
Same number of adjectives, but broken up so that the sentence flows better. Descriptions don’t have to be in the same sentence either.
It could be a pink unicorn, winged like the lordly pegasi. The war turned it into a zombie, and since the final battle, it has become fearless.
This is elementary stuff, but I have seen sentences that ramble on with adjectives. For example…
My poofy green and blue glittery silk prom dress is super-duper awesome.
That’s a lot of adjectives. Yes, we pretty much know what the dress looks like, but the writer doesn’t have to describe it in once sentence. For example…
I bought a blue and green prom dress. The corset is glittery and the silk skirt is poofy. I love it.
Yes, the sentences are boring, but they aren’t wordy either.
Adjectives add detail, but nouns also add detail. In the first sentence, I didn’t say corset or skirt, but in the second description, I did. Remember the zombie unicorn? In its first description, we didn't know there had been a war that turned the unicorn into a zombie. Unless you are writing really short flash fiction, stretch the descriptions out
Details signify something as important. The more details you tack on to a noun, the more it stands out. (You don’t want it to stand out in a bad way, though!)
The grassy fields are nothing, but the grassy fields covered in pink and white flowers make you take a second look.
Think about how you use adjectives.
Do you pile them around a single noun, or do you spread them out? Are you paying too much attention to the clouds and not the mysterious stranger that just stepped out of the inn?
Adjectives are your friends when used properly. Give them some respect and put them where they are needed.
This discussion now raises a new question… Where does the zombie unicorn fall on the Zombies vs. Unicorns debate?