• Jellyfish Modifiers, Ass & Idiots

    Posted Posted by David Duhr in WBN News & Events     Comments No comments

    Dear WBN:

    You say on your blog that “Starbucks coffee tastes like ass,” but then you’re always making fun of how bad your coffee is.

    Debbie G.

    Dallas, TX

    DD: Debbie from Dallas? Come on. Seriously, how many jokes about porn did you hear growing up? (Or still hear?)

    Starbucks coffee tastes like dirty, wet ass, WBN coffee tastes like hygienic dry ass. And ours is free.

    So there.



    Dear WBN:

    As the leading provider of services for writers, what are you going to do to save us from this?

    And in a tangentially related question:  Modifiers.  Can’t live without them, or can’t live with them?  Some writers work to strike all adjectives and adverbs from their text. Some editors seem to stress a minimalism that leaves modifying words on the curb.  I figure, like most conventional wisdom maxims, any attempt to broad stroke this leaves a lot of writers out. Every text contains its own logic, and no shoe fits everyone.  And yet I hear it so often expressed as conventional wisdom that modifiers are just bad writing, and I rarely see it explained why.

    As leading providers of Jellyfish Management Services, can I get a few words on this subject?

    Jeff Q.

    Austin, TX


    JG: Funny you should ask. We have for some time now been working to develop a Fiction-to-Reality Funnel (Copyright © 2011 by Jellyfish Management Services) which will allow a writer’s thoughts to be instantaneously projected from his/her mind into the real world. For example, an equally bad-ass creature measuring no less than 7 meters with tentacles 51 meters long who answers to WriteByNight and WriteByNight alone. Or a shrinking mechanism with which to reduce Mr. Jellyfish to a more manageable sea-monkey-size. Or an impenetrable, gelatinous goo in which to suspend the monstrous thing until we come up with a better idea. Needless to say, the Fiction-to-Reality Funnel will have implications beyond said jellyfish, the details of which I am not at liberty to discuss at the present time.

    It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, I know. I assure you, it’s not.

    If you’re worried that I’ve just summarized the plot of the film Sphere, you should be.

    Now for the good stuff—more like “the better stuff” since, let’s be real, the stuff that came before was pretty darn good.

    Modifiers are tricky. They’re like (normal) jellyfish: one is cute, but a horde can kill you. I strongly urge you against never using adjectives or adverbs; they allow us to describe and description is a big deal. I just as strongly urge you to use them only as necessary. Here’s what I mean:

    In a sentence like, “Laura slowly brushed her long, curly hair from her plump, pink face,” which clearly has too many modifiers, we can go one of two ways:

    1) Strike all modifiers so that the sentence reads: “Laura brushed her hair from her face.

    2) Pick and choose which modifiers are necessary. How do we decide? Well, does the speed at which Laura touched her hair really matter? Probably not, so omit “slowly.” As for the other four modifiers, decide which ones to keep by determining what information came before and what will come after. Is this your one and only opportunity to communicate to your reader that Laura has long, curly hair, and a plump, pink face? Which of these details are important to, say, plot or characterization?

    Without access to the imaginary manuscript from which I’ve pulled this magical sentence, it’s difficult to make these determinations but let’s give it a try, shall we?:

    “Laura brushed her hair from her plump face”: This incarnation, I don’t mind, because “long” and “curly” are kind of pedestrian adjectives anyway, and “plump” allows the reader to begin to envision the character.

    “Laura brushed her hair from her pink face” also works for me because it raises questions. For example, why is Laura’s face pink? Is she embarrassed? Overheated? Wearing too much rouge? This seemingly insignificant adjective has created immediate interest.

    Any of these sentences (except the first one, the one with five modifiers—five is too many) is perfectly fine … as long as it makes sense and has necessity within the context of the work.

    Modifiers: can’t live without ‘em, can’t live with too many of ‘em.


    DD: Or, to paraphrase Norm from Cheers, “Modifiers: can’t live with ’em, pass the beer nuts.”



    Dear WBN:

    Are you doing any summer writing classes in IRC? Or Martin? I haven’t seen any ads.


    St. Lucie, FL


    DD: Summer’s tough in Florida, Billie; almost everyone flees. But there’s a cool new venue in Vero with whom we’re discussing some upcoming programming. So stay tuned.

    In the meantime, we’re always glad to work with you one-on-one.

    (Austinites, there’s an Austin e-newsletter, too)

    (Isn’t it awesome how seamlessly I manage to fit plugs into every post?)


    Dear WBN:

    You’re an idiot if you think the movie Wonder Boys was better than the book. The book is brilliant, and way more complex than the ridiculous piece of Hollywood shit it spawned.


    (Location not provided)

    DD: Okay.



    To get your burning questions answered, email them to me with “Dear WBN” in the subject line. Do it now, before you forget. And before we run out of questions and have to start making these up, which would be ridiculous.

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