When I was a kid, I loved getting a new box of crayons.
All those perfectly sharpened points!
And the bigger the box, the better, for that meant more choices in color. A treasured box of 64 crayons held 11 different shades of blue! (Yes, I counted.)
I could never grab just any blue. I had to learn the names of every hue. I preferred a cornflower sky with a dandelion sun. An indigo ocean with a burnt sienna beach.
And when I started to write descriptive paragraphs in the second grade, I never wrote about red roses and blue violets. I wrote about mauve tulips and coral peaches. Orchid petals and sea green vines.
Good writing always prefers the specific to the generic, the distinct to the vague.
Of course, when we mature as writers, we learn there’s more to good writing than clever adjectives. A writer’s skill lies not in her extensive vocabulary of adjectives; rather, the adjectives serve to illustrate a writer’s awareness.
Awareness is what marks a writer. And a writer’s awareness is exemplified by choice adjectives. When we notice the various gradations of blue, we can portray a setting with greater specificity. When we notice certain nuances of human behavior, we can depict characters with greater accuracy. When we perceive minute patterns in dialect, we can write dialogue with greater veracity.
Specificity and accuracy and veracity.
Isn’t that the goal of every writer? To write truth.
So it’s not the adjectives, per se, it’s the awareness the adjectives reflect.
Attention to detail requires a heightened awareness, which means living with an outward focus.
I love to paint with words. But whether I’m 4 or 14 or — ahem — almost 40, I still love to color too. There’s something about starting with a blank page and filling it with color and dimension.
Did you ever love to color?
Did you ever memorize those shades of tangerine and salmon?