#Prowrite: Effective Description – Nouns, Verbs and Adjectives

When we discuss writer’s craft, often people jump straight to similes, metaphors and symbolism. While mastery of these skills is important, the basic building blocks of language should not be ignored. Sometimes a skilful choice of noun, verb or adjective can be more effective than an elaborate metaphor could hope to be.

Let’s take an example from describing cars. At it’s most basic, you might write something like, “He had a car.” Unless car ownership in your writing world in itself is a wonderful or shocking thing, this sentence doesn’t give us much information.


Our noun in the example sentence is “car.” Everyone who reads/hears that word will picture a different vehicle in their minds. If it doesn’t matter what the reader pictures, “car” is sufficient.

However, if you’re writing a different time period, such as the early 19th Century, a more appropriate noun might be “automobile.” It’s a word we don’t often use now but was used at an earlier date.

Even better, if you wanted your reader to picture a very specific automobile from the early 19th Century, you might write, “He had a Model T.” Even if the reader doesn’t quite know what a Model T looks like, they’ll infer that it’s a specific type of automobile from the time period.

So just by changing the noun in the sentence, you can create a huge difference in meaning.


Verbs, our helpful words of action, can bring a lot of power with them. They help to create tone (the feeling your readers pick up on) as well as movement/relationships. Walking sounds generic, but substitute it with shuffling or sprinting and you get completely different meanings.

To return to our car example, if you replace the verb “had” with something else, you change the whole meaning of the sentence.


“He wanted a car.” – This gives the reader the idea the character doesn’t have something and would prefer to have it.

“He longed for a car.” – The use of “longed for” here suggests that not only does the character want a car, but that he really wants it. The different between “wanted” and “longed for” creates a huge difference in meaning.

“He loved his car.” – I’ve fudged a bit on this one because I changed the pronoun, but I had to, so forgive me. If use the verb “loved” we imply that this character really likes his car. Perhaps he loves his car to the extreme that, when something happens to it, it kicks off a whole plot strand. “Loved” suggests a closeness or even a relationship between the character and the object. It gives a huge difference in meaning from “had.”

Adjectives – Usage

Adjectives can make or break description. Too little and we end up with a plain character in a plain room. Too much and the reader ends up in descriptive overload.

Thus, when you use adjectives, you need to be sure you use the best one possible.

Let’s go back to the car example. Depending on what kind of car it is, you will use a different description. “The sleek car” creates a very different tone than “the rusted car.”

I mostly go by the rule that one adjective in a description is enough, but not everyone writes that way. Thus…

Adjectives – Order

In English, adjectives have a specific order they should be placed in within a sentence. Have you ever read something and thought it didn’t quite sound right, but you couldn’t figure out exactly why? It may have been a result of adjective order.

The following table is a screenshot from the Cambridge Dictionary website. There was little point in my typing everything again, so all credit goes to them for this!

The table shows you what order adjectives in your descriptions should be placed:

Now, my no means should you use all ten types of adjective in one sentence. My brain would switch off after three adjectives in a list. However, if you’ve listed adjectives but they don’t sound right, check the list and see if the description sounds better with the adjectives in the correct order.

Coming back to our car analogy, we could write the “beautiful, shiny, German car” and this makes sense. It follows the order.

If we wrote it as the “German, small, beautiful car,” it doesn’t make as much sense. It’s just one of those odd rules of language.

Use listing of adjectives with caution. Sometimes one is better than three.


Ziv Gray View All →

#Queer writer of #YAFantasy and #YALGBT content. Blogger of all things #YA and writing help.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: