Monday Morning Essay Tip: Details Make the Story Come Alive

Many writers tend to confuse adjectives and adverbs (“describing” words) with details. When adjectives and adverbs are used to emphasize an emotion or emotional state, they can add very little to the description of an experience and can even undermine it. However, when that emotion or emotional state is described properly, it can bring a story to life.

Example 1: “With the award in hand, I felt extremely proud of my accomplishment.”

In the case above, the word “extremely” does not help create or enhance the reader’s mental picture, but merely states the obvious. After all, the difference between being “extremely proud” and “proud” is very little, considering that pride is naturally an “extreme” emotion. This just doesn’t effectively convey how the writer actually felt.

Example 2: “Approaching the podium to receive the award, I admittedly felt faint. Even though my hands were shaking, I managed to give our company president a firm handshake when she passed me the award. As I began speaking to a crowd of my colleagues, I finally understood what it meant to be proud of myself.”

In this second example, the details of the story (“felt faint,” “my hands were shaking”) create an image in the reader’s mind. The reader is not relating to the simple adjectives that reinforce existing impressions, but experiencing details that bring color to the story. In the first example, the story does not change if the word “extremely” is removed, but in the second, real emotion is conveyed.

We encourage our candidates to avoid adjectives that reinforce an existing emotion and to write descriptively to capture a spirit.

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