As you may already know, I am on Goodreads quote of the day mailing list. Today’s I found particularly interesting on a couple of levels:
“Atticus told me to delete the adjectives and I’d have the facts.” Harper Lee
First, there is the literary perspective. Eliminating the adjectives and other modifiers from a story leaves you with the simple, cold hard facts, the bones, of the story. I have read several bits of writing advice that advocate keeping modifiers to a minimum and using nouns and verbs to their fullest by using them precisely, trying to match the exact word to its underlying concept. To my mind, that leaves one with the essence of the story.
Second, there is the deeper, philosophical perspective. Like with the literary perspective above, if you observe or learn of an event, if you cut away all the extraneous opinions and descriptors and other crap, you will have the cold, hard facts of the matter. This is echoed in Hannibal Lecter’s famous quote from Marcus Aurelius (though this is actually a paraphrase…at least in my copy of Meditations of Marcus Aurelius): “Read Marcus Aurelius. Of each particular thing ask: what is it in itself? What is its nature?”. It is also echoed in Hemingway’s remark made during an interview in The Paris Review: “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector.”