A good writer uses specific nouns to offer clarity in minimal wordcount. They paint a detailed picture - not to complicate or exaggerate, but to be clear and succinct.
"The noun rhinoceros flashes a sharper, more meaningful picture to your reader than does the noun animal. But animal is sharper and more meaningful than creature. In the same way, consider bungalow versus house versus building... starlet versus girl versus female... Colt versus revolver versus firearm..."
-Dwight V. Swain, Techniques of the Selling Writer
The fewer words you can use to communicate the idea, the easier the reader will follow - and the broader the world built in their head in the shortest time. In other words: You'll write more efficiently.
So scour your manuscript for nouns and ask yourself: Is that the very best and clearest word for this person-place-or-thing?
Then let the nouns speak for themselves.
Why am I talking about nouns instead of verbs or adjectives? Well, primarily because we're covering verbs in the next post. But since you brought adjectives up (yes, you did), I'll make one brief point:
If you let your nouns speak for themselves wherever possible, adjectives will be less necessary. And where they do crop up, more effective.
But don't mix up being specific with over-stating. Say one thing clearly - not impressively. What's the difference? Here's a quote from C. S. Lewis:
"Don't use words too big for the subject. Don't say "infinitely" when you mean "very"; otherwise you'll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite."
I'd add to that, don't say 'wonderful' for something that is merely 'sweet'. And never use 'devastated' when your character is simply 'sad'.
Good writing is simple, clear and leaves no room for confusion or distraction. (It also doesn't get impressed with it's own ability to synonymise). Good writing is also specific. It doesn't exaggerate or over-state because that creates melodrama in the minds-eye of the reader.
If the reader is spending time thinking about how beautifully you phrased something, or how impressive your vocabulary is, they aren't deep in the story. They may admire your prose, but be unable to tell their friends what the story was about.
So, what's your goal? For me, I want my words to be invisible, disappearing behind the clear and fascinating picture they paint.
Your Turn: Does this advice / approach apply only to commercial fiction, or to literary fiction also? What are your thoughts?