Sheri Casual
Sheri Hoyte Managing Editor

Be honest with me, if I had called this week’s editorial, “Qualifiers, Indefinite Modifiers, and Intensifiers” would you have even clicked on the article? But that’s just what they are – narrative slayers, and they are out to sabotage writing everywhere.

I recently finished reading Natalie Goldberg’s “Writing Down the Bones,” a wealth of information for writers of every level. In one of the chapters, she discusses an article she had read about a study that was done in the 70s on women and language.  This study found women often added qualifiers and indefinite modifiers to their statements, both oral and written.

NOTE: This is not an article about the writing styles of men vs. women. There are endless studies on this subject for those so inclined to learn more, and both genders do this to some extent. Instead, let’s focus on the narrative destroyers and practice eliminating them from our writing.

I’m sure all the writers out there know what qualifiers and indefinite modifiers are, but humor me as I do a quick review:

“I liked that book, didn’t you?” “Didn’t you” is the qualifier in the sentence.  This statement, in essence, says, “I have an opinion, but I need validation.” Ouch. Don’t write from this place. Be assertive. A clear, definitive statement drops the question, becoming, “I liked that book.”

 “Perhaps this is a good reason to write every day.” “Perhaps” is the culprit in this sentence, an indefinite modifier.  Is it a good reason or not?  Be decisive and confident in your writing and your sentence becomes, “This is a good reason to write every day.”

 Okay, lesson over.  Go ahead.  Take a look at some of your recent material.  What did you find? Curious, I pulled up some of the book reviews I’ve written lately.  Uh-oh.  Guilty.  Not only do I seem to love a good qualifier and indefinite modifier, but I absolutely adore using intensifiers and all the drama and flair they add to the text.

There are more than a handful of us that need to brush up on our skills in this area, don’t you think? But how?

  • Practice being assertive – Use definitive statements and trust yourself. You’ve heard the expression, “When you walk into a room, act like you own it.”  Do the same thing with your writing. You DO own it.  Stand behind it!
  • There is no need to eliminate these words completely. Instead, practice moderation.  An incredibly impressive intensifier is needed every now and then, but perhaps not in this sentence.
  • Remove qualifiers, intensifiers and indefinite modifiers AFTER you finish your writing session. There is a time and a place for everything, and the best way to block your creativity is to worry about writing perfect sentences in the first draft. There will be plenty of time to hone your masterpiece later.

And yes, I jest throughout this article, sometimes on purpose, sometimes, perhaps not. As with all aspects of writing though, the key is practice. It won’t happen overnight but just being aware helps in the implementation of change.  Happy writing!

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