This is one of my favourite seasons. I hate the cold weather, but reading the entries in my sections of two annual writing competitions gives me the perfect excuse to stay indoors by the heater.
With the judging now finished for Make Your Own Storybook and almost there for the Tim Winton Awards I am once again reminded of the depth of talent we have here in Western Australia. The best of our young writers show a stunningly mature grasp of language and an ability to engage even experienced adult readers in their stories, at the highest emotional level. Over the last two months I have been entertained and enlightened. I have laughed and cried. And been provoked to look at the world through different eyes by these articulate writers.
However, one thing that worries me is the overuse, and even inappropriate use, of adjectives. I have noticed this trend, to a lesser degree, in past years. This year it seems that the longer and more complicated a word is, the more likely it is to be dropped into a sentence. With no regard for the rhythmic effect, the image (or lack of) provoked by the word, or even the meaning conveyed, these ridiculously pretentious words are scattered through the narrative like confetti. Sometimes not one but several of these monstrosities appear in the same sentence! It is tempting to blame the dreaded NAPLAN test, administered in Years 3,5,7 and 9. The rules of this test impose the totally unrealistic expectation that a worthwhile narrative can be written in 20 minutes. Whereas even if some light-bulb moment of inspiration does happen to come along at the right time and words flow down onto the page in a rush of creativity, the result can only ever be first draft work. In a desperate attempt to rescue their students from this stressful and potentially damaging situation, teachers can be forgiven for hammering the use of adjectives. The more the merrier, they seem to say. The longer and more complex the better. Alas, this might look good and boost their word count but, until the time comes when some form of artificial intelligence is marking their work, this approach is doing them more harm than good.
Adjectives, sparingly used, can enhance the rhythm, evoke a more vivid mental image and help give the reader a satisfying experience. But don’t get carried away. Remember, in this case, less is definitely more.
Good luck if you entered this year. And, no matter what happens, don’t forget to keep writing.