Writing Tip (On Qualifiers)

Qualifiers can be tricky, and whether they are effective depends on the use. That is, there’s no clear-cut “always use” or “never use” rules. But in editing my own writing, I find I often use them improperly.

What is a qualifier?

A qualifier precedes a noun and gives a sense of degree. In “The car was sort of red” the qualifier would be sort of. This particular line works well enough in dialogue and subjective narration, but overall, there’s not much place for it in objective narration. All that does is make the writer sound unsure. Was the car red or not? What is “sort of” red, does it mean pink? Orange? Make up your mind, writer!

Consider how drastically the following qualifiers change the narration:

He was kind of tired, so he went to sleep.

She shrieked as the man plunged the knife somewhat hard into her chest.

The bullet flew pretty close to his head.

Now without the qualifiers:

He was tired, so he went to sleep.

She shrieked as the man plunged the knife into her chest.

The bullet flew close to his head.

Now, these aren’t perfect, but they’re much stronger. In the case of the last, the qualifier was almost more of a placeholder. How close? Personally I’d change this sentence to “The bullet flew so close to his head he could hear the wind ripping by his ear” or something of the like. But again, this isn’t an always-and-never issue. For example, if you write “He woke up at seven A.M. every day” your character will likely come off as obsessive, possible pedantic, where “He usually woke up around seven A.M.” implies a more laid-back, casual character. The trick then is to know what you want to convey and just write that. Don’t write what you kind of want to, don’t tell a story close to what you mean, just write what you want to write, and use qualifiers as part of the process, not placeholders (as I often do) or worse, for lack of better words.

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