Karolyn Sherwood, Author

Are You a Noun or an Adjective?

In my last blog post, I asked the question, Who Do You Think You Are? Since then, I’ve asked several people that question face-to-face, and the answers have yielded new insight. Some people (like myself) answered with nouns (writer, traveler, etc.), more external descriptions. Others, like one man I spoke to, answered with adjectives (thoughtful, generous, etc.), more internal descriptions. This man began his list with personality traits, not hobbies, pastimes, or occupations.

A psychologist could have a heyday with this dichotomy, I’m sure. But I’m no psychologist. I just get to ponder this, and ask you what you think this says about people. Did you make your list of five quick words to describe yourself? I’m sure you did, so … did you choose nouns or adjectives? Neither answer is wrong; in fact, no personal description would be complete without both lists. It’s curious, though, what this says about people. Could it be that people who view themselves via external criteria first tend to be insecure, thus more concerned with the way the world sees them? Or maybe they’re just private people who want a shell around them. Hmm …

When it comes to writing, adjectives are almost as villainous as adverbs. But don’t take my word for it. Stephen King once said: The road to hell is paved with adverbs. And here’s strong advice against both forms of qualifiers. Good writing happens in the nouns and the verbs. Yet as a writer, when I am creating characters, I must know ALL about them. I need to know their nouns and their adjectives. In fact, I need to know their verbs and adverbs, too. I was once told I need to know when my protagonist lost his virginity. And not just when, but where, with whom, and how the experience was for him? Facts like these don’t need to be included in a novel, but a writer needs to know her characters as deeply as she knows herself—probably better than she knows herself!

This leads me directly back to how well does anyone know him- or herself? This may sound ridiculously simple, but it’s not. This is a matter scientists study relentlessly. There’s a new book out on just this topic: Mindwise, by Nichols Epley, that explores how well we know others, and in turn, how well we know ourselves. It’s one of those, the-more-you-know, the-more-you-know-you-don’t-know topics that fascinate me to no end.

Maybe I should have been an anthropologist.

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