So the other day, someone asked why my blog was called “Fine Feathers.” (Okay, it was my husband.)
The quote at the top, “it takes more than fine feathers to make a fine bird”, is the moral of one of Aesop’s fables in which a plain jackdaw, trying to make himself more than he is, covers himself in the feathers of fancier birds to appear before the god Jupiter, who plans to choose a king of birds. Of course he is ultimately revealed and stripped of his disguise, as any wrongly placed bird should be. (Stick with me, I’m going someplace.)
To me, the line leads naturally to:
“…and it takes more than fine letters to make a fine word.”
Clearly, to me, a fine word is like a fine bird: it should be strong enough on its own to face a god.
This does not mean that all those fancy adjectives and adverbs are evil. Yes, there are authors who brag about writing entire novels without a single adverb. In FicFac, a tête-à-tête with Subhakar Das, “An Aversion to Adverbs”, Gabriel Garcia Marquez is quoted as saying he wrote an entire novel without a single one. J.K. Rowling is maligned for using them like salt and pepper. Yet, between my mother, sister, husband, 8-year old son and I, a book with “Harry Potter” in the title has been read at least 40 times. For GGM, the total may be zero. I would have to check with my mom. I’m sure she’ll let me know if I’m wrong.)
The point of the article, which I agree with as much as I love Harry, Ron, and Hermione, is that “adjectives and adverbs are a hallmark of florid, overwritten prose; verbs add muscle and precision.” (Children’s literature is more forgiving, I’m finding. Sometimes it’s just quicker to use an adverb, for the writer and the reader, and word counts matter in that market.)
But no matter what I’m writing, whether it’s fluffy spy kitty or a spec-fic short story, when I write a scene I focus on two triads:
1) nouns, verbs, and emotion
2) plot, character, and tension
Adverbs and adjectives sneak in. But plain feathers and strong words serve both missions well.