Monday, 7 November 2011

Part 3 - Modifiers, Intensifiers and Qualifiers

Continuing on from Part 1 and Part 2 - modifiers and intensifiers - in this last part we’ll look at Qualifiers.

Writers should familiarise themselves with the different types of modifiers so that when it comes to editing, the process is easier.

Qualifiers are a type of modifier; they modify words in a sentence or phrase in a certain way, they qualify adjectives and verbs and provide readers with specific details. In other words, they change how absolute or generalised a sentence can be.

For instance, ‘this sum is very large’ or ‘this sum is a great deal bigger than I expected’, where the words ‘very’ and ‘great deal’ are the qualifiers. Or ‘he came across it almost by accident’ or ‘he came across it pretty much by accident’, where ‘almost’ and ‘pretty much’ are the qualifiers. To varying degrees, each of these has modified the sentence.

Often, qualifiers provide unnecessary padding to your narrative. We use qualifiers in our speech all the time, but when it comes to fiction writing, they should only appear in dialogue, because, like intensifiers and types of modifiers, they weaken the quality of writing.

Many writers mistakenly believe that their narrative needs this sort of ‘padding’, or that if they use lots of ‘rather’, ‘quite’ and ‘somewhat’, the writing sounds better than it is. It doesn’t.

Take out the qualifiers from the above examples and you have much better sentences.

The most commonly (overused) qualifiers are: rather, very, quite, usually, generally, somewhat, more, less, least, so, just, enough, indeed, still, almost, most, fairly, really, pretty much, even, a bit, a little, a good deal, a great deal, kind of, sort of.

Now you can see why, wherever possible, you should avoid these types of words that modify your sentences.

Take this example:

The rain was somewhat heavy as he opened the door.

Apart from sounding vague, the ‘somewhat’ is completely unnecessary and serves only to pad the sentence with extra verbiage. Leave out the ‘somewhat’ and just have ‘the rain was heavy as he opened the door’ and you’ll see that the sentence has immediately strengthened.

How many of these have crept into your writing without you even noticing? Here are some examples that crop up in writing all the time:-

Jane almost collapsed with shock.   (Almost? Either she did or she didn’t.)
It sort of just happened.   (Sort of or not quite, or just stuck in between?)
The house was just around the corner.   (Does that mean right there, half way, further down from the corner?)
Indeed, it was his first lesson.   (Indeed is pointless in this sentence.)

As you can see from these examples, these are the types of qualifiers we use all the time when chatting to other people in everyday life, however when it comes to narrative, avoid littering the story with them because they inevitably weaken the structure and make it look amateurish. They also make the writer appear lazy.

Be succinct and don’t be let sentences become inadvertently vague by using qualifiers.

Of course, as is the case with creative fiction, there are some qualifiers that you do need when writing – all, always, none, never. These are known as absolute qualifiers (a modifier that does not have matters of degree). They are absolute.

It’s impossible not to use qualifiers in the right circumstances, however their use in the wrong circumstances can cause problems, so for the most part, it’s wise to avoid most of them and keep a strict eye on where they end up in your narrative.

As you can see from the various examples, weeding out some qualifiers can make your sentences better and tighter, and now that you can recognise them, it will be easier to edit your work and eliminate as many as possible.

Remember, your narrative should always be concise, tight and sharp.


Next week: Creating sibilance

1 comment:

  1. Just to let you know that i'm preparing an english lesson on intensifiers and modifiers. I found this EXTREMELY enlightening. Thanks!

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