Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Adverbs

I've been wracking my brain for a week to try and come up with a post for today. Actually I have 4 right now in draft mode, all waiting to make the cut. But someone said something to me the other day and it's been nagging at my craw so I thought I'd talk about it.

I'd asked a writer friend to take a look at the final proof for THE LADY'S FATE for me. Make sure everything was looking good. I thought I had written a pretty tight story, cleaned up all the typo's and punctuation and what not. Had all the details in all the right places. Was/am pretty proud of the way it turned out. So this reading was just kind of for my piece of mind.

Now this writer, an excellent "working" writer, gave me some pretty fantastic feedback, of which I was glad. She confirmed all my expectations that it wasn't a piece of doo-da, and even though it won't win a Pulitzer, expelled my doubts that I do indeed write a pretty good story.

BUT, she did say I had to watch my adverbs. I have too many -ly words. However, as she wasn't an avid reader of the historical romance genre, she didn't know if that was the style in which they were written.

And I've been thinking about this a lot. Do I really use too many adverbs, -ly words in my manuscript? And the resounding answer is yes. I do. And I'll tell you why.

I like them. They serve a purpose for me. Don't get me wrong, I mean they're not everywhere , but they are there.

For example -- He quickly bounded up the stairs. Okay, he's bounding, so we know what that means. You can only be bounding one way, and that is quickly, so we don't need to say quickly. Hence, delete quickly.

However, I also have -- She answered brightly. Can you see the expression on her face? I could have written -- She answered with a bright smile. But that's just way too long and brightly does the job in one word instead of four. To me, this is an either or choice. I choose brightly.

Now these are just examples, but you get my drift.

The other reason I use them, is because most readers aren't writers. They don't analyze every single sentence structure for mistakes. They're just reading a book, trying to escape their everyday lives. I mean, that's why I read. To escape.

There was a big hoo-hah a couple of years ago about Dan Brown and his writing style. Writers were dissing him, saying he writes like a hack. Well, you know what, I read Dan Brown on vacation and I thought he was a pretty good writer. You know why, because I was reading as a reader, not a writer. The story sucked me in and kept me reading (until the wee hours one night.) I wasn't analyzing his content, I was swept away with his words. I was in Paris, in Spain, on a plane, on a boat. I was trying to figure out who dunnit, right along with Robert Langdon.

Now I couldn't tell you how many adverbs he used, and quite frankly, I don't care. I just liked his book.

With the Big 6 crumbling, and authors and writers using more and more places to get their work seen and read, yeah, sure, some of it is going to suck. I mean, you have to KNOW the rules, before you break them, and we all don't have agents as gatekeepers. BUT, if you have a great plotline, engaging characters, and keep the pace moving forward, I don't think readers will care if you use a couple of adverbs.

And that's what it's all about really. Isn't it? Keeping the reader reading. So they will say, "Hey, I read this fantastic book the other day, you should read it."

Tell me -- How do you feel about adverbs? What rules do you break? Are there any you would like to break, but just can't because of the way you were taught to write?
(Maybe someday I'll tell you about my aversion to semi-colons.)

35 comments:

Writer Pat Newcombe said...

I try not to use too many adverbs and I do go through my work on editing specifically looking out for them. But I agree with you that each has to be looked at for the job it does. I am a little ruthless with them but you will always find a few in my work and I defy anyone to tell me they should not be there...

Bish Denham said...

I quite like adverbs myself, she said quietly coughing behind her hand.

They have fallen almost completely out of favor in children's books, although J. K. Rowling used her fair share, but then the British may not be as fussy. Frank L. Baum used them in his Oz stories, but he's old fashioned who reads his books anymore?

I don't know what it's like for romance. Did Jane Austen used adverbs?

Mac said...

I believe the evil LY is the most obvious TELLing we insert into our tags and exposition. That said, there are appropriate times for telling.

Sharp writing should be our goal. SHOWing can become wordy and compromise sharp, concise writing. But over-TELLing can press the reader out of the scene.

So I glare at every LY and challenge it.

I've been known to use an LY...even on tags. I'm sometimes evil. Ask my wife. ;D

--Mac

Elaine AM Smith said...

I trim back the adverbs, it is the best way to encourage fresh growth ;)

Anne Gallagher said...

Pat -- Thanks for agreeing. I do think that some do serve an appropriate purpose.

Bish -- Jane Austen used plenty. However, back in my younger reading days, adverbs were used quite a bit in romances. Depending on the writer and the sub-genre now it's hit or miss how many they use.

Mac -- Oh Mac. What am I going to do with you? However you do see my point. "OVER SHOWING can be wordy," she said brightly.

Elaine -- I don't use a ton, but they are there and sometimes there is really no other way to show.

Laura Pauling said...

The way you used it is fine. I don't think readers notice that kind of thing either. And I get tired of writers mocking Stephanie Meyers and Dan Brown. I enjoyed both their series.

Jen Daiker said...

Every rule can be broken. I understand why you used it where you did -- I think in that case it's okay. I watch mine, but it turns out I don't use them all that often when I'm writing my MS so I've gotten lucky. I suppose it's much like food intake "everything is good in moderation."

jbchicoine said...

I try not to use adverbs--the LY ones--but I've always taken issue with 'showing' with a long string of words when one will do!

I agree with your example of brightly--'She answered with a bright smile is just way too long and brightly does the job in one word instead of four.'

Mac makes the point, "Sharp writing should be our goal. SHOWing can become wordy and compromise sharp, concise writing." This has always been my stance. I aim for concise writing and excessive wordage drags the narrative in my opinion. I think it's also a matter of using strong verbs...

...all that said, it seems that there are so many rules emphasized out there that we get paranoid about breaking them...few readers care about the rules, it's mostly just us writers who take issue!

Creepy Query Girl said...

I think having an adverb in every sentence can get annoyingly annoying:) BUT I also am a fan of adverbs. Sometimes they just do in one word what it would otherwise take you a full four word description to get across. They flow, dammit! And to be honest i've come across a couple writers who get really hung up on the adverbs. Why this is, I do not know.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Let's put it this way. If most readers hated -ly adverbs, JK Rowling wouldn't be the richest woman in England. ;)

Linda G. said...

I love adverbs, but I do try to use them sparingly. ;)

Hannah Kincade said...

hahaha, I was thinking just what Stina wrote. If your story is still engaging with adverbs, adverb-it up. I think the way to find out for sure if it clogs up the reading, is to read it out. If you stumble over the words, too many. If not, huzzah!

Anne Gallagher said...

My Friends -- Thanks all for chiming in. Janice Hardy just wrote a blog post today that really sums up adverbs so much better than I ever could. You should probably go take a look.

Em-Musing said...

Well, if writers aren't supposed to use adverbs, then why were they created? What should we do with all the adverbs? Take them out of dictionaries? I'm with you, Anne...if adverbs aren't too obvious, who cares? But obviously Mark Twain did: “I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me. To misplace an adverb is a thing which I am able to do with frozen indifference; it can never give me a pang. There are subtleties which I cannot master at all,--they confuse me, they mean absolutely nothing to me,--and this adverb plague is one of them. ... Yes, there are things which we cannot learn, and there is no use in fretting about it. I cannot learn adverbs; and what is more I won't.”
Atlantic Monthly, June 1880

Sarah Ahiers (Falen) said...

What Stina said. I try to keep them to a minimum, but there's still a few that need to stay for clarity's sake.

Carol Kilgore said...

I see you everywhere, and I finally thought I should stop over, say hi, and follow you. So here I am :)

Talli Roland said...

I don't mind adverbs, as long as writers don't go mental with them!

Lydia Kang said...

I used to feel like I was doing something so wrong by using adverbs. Now I just use them judiciously, but there's no such things as "Adverbs are a sin" for me anymore.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I know I use them too much. Sometimes they are difficult to see when I'm just reading. I am aware of the 'ly' words though.

Stephanie M. Lorée said...

Adverbs need to be used sparingly and appropriately. (See what I did there?) The ker-fluffle over adverbs is overblown, but there are many writers who suffer from adverb abuse.

When editing, I am always watching for adverb abuse. Also, when you substitute "with adjective/noun," such as in your example of "with a bright smile," you are basically using more words to do the same thing as an adverb. So, I am careful of adverb substitutes as well.

Tighter nouns, tighter verbs, the best way to eliminate adjective/adverb abuse.

Matthew MacNish said...

There's a time and a place for them. As you proved quite well with your example.

J.L. Campbell said...

I think many of us are the victims of writing networks and critique circles, so much so that we get to the point where we feel constrained to write within the rules.

Sure, I examine my sentences to see that I'm not using two words to convey the same idea. As to rules, I couldn't wait to be published so I could do some of the things that I like but couldn't because I wanted to get my foot in the door first.

As long as you're happy with your edits, rock on!

Michelle Davidson Argyle said...

I'm aware of the adverbs I use, but I'm not afraid to use them, either. I don't like a rule that makes me afraid to use words - and a lot of adverbs usually indicate (in my writing, anyway) that I'm not thinking of better ways to describe something. But like you say, it can depend on a lot of different factors (genre, one of them) whether or not more or less adverbs are working. Like I said in my post today - do what works for you. And, as I always like to suggest, make sure you have a good editor.

Jennifer Hillier said...

My first drafts always have a ton of adverbs, and most get cut in my later drafts, but not all. Sometimes an adverb just works!

Bish Denham said...

ANNE! I have something for you on my blog! Come see, come see!

Anthony Lee Collins said...

I don't think I use a lot of adverbs, but I don't worry about it. It's possible I use more than I think I do.

(Don't get me started about semicolons. I used to avoid them like the plague, but a reader basically shamed me into being a bit less strict -- though I still feel I'm being too posh when I use one.)

My current pet peeve is "filter words." Not that I'm against them, but it annoys me that everybody seems to have suddenly decided they're a problem. I use them when they're appropriate and I don't use them when they're not.

Anne Gallagher said...

Thanks everyone for chiming in about adverbs today. I'm sorry I didn't get the chance to answer each of your comments personally, a whole lotta stuff going on at my house today, but I appreciate you taking the time to stop by.

Clarissa Draper said...

I was sure I commented on this post! My internet has been flaky lately and sometimes when I post a comment, it doesn't always take. Anyways, can I just say, I share your aversion for semi-colons! My editor doesn't mind them and so they sneak into my work but me, I'd be fine just leaving the winking eyes out.

Portia said...

I have an aversion to semicolons too! My favorite writing advice (and you'll even find this in a few books) is to write for your ear. If you've got a finely tuned ear, if you read your work aloud you'll be able to identify what works. I don't think everyone follows all the rules all the time. If they did, where would the craft be?

DL Hammons said...

I compare adverbs to empty calories. They're easy for editors to pick out and eliminate, but mostly invisible to the average reader. No harm, no foul. :)

Nicki Elson said...

You're so right about knowing the rules before breaking them. Your example shows that you know the deal w/ adverbs and so only use them when it's the best way to give the reader a fuller picture. And seriously, they were invented for a reason.

L'Aussie said...

Definitely too many adverbs can be annoying but it's at the stage where we are frightened to use any, but I'm with you, sometimes an adverb just has a right to be in the sentence. I try not to use them for editorialising - 'he said consolingly.' Erk.

Denise

Deniz Bevan said...

I write the story originally just to write it. I worry about all the adverbs and so on later. One thing I tend to search for and cut is pointless descriptors like 'very', 'small', 'rather', etc.
Romance author Joanna Bourne is a great example of a writer who uses words in a fresh, new way. She might have adverbs in there but you can bet they'll be used in an unexpected fashion!

Nick said...

Waiting now for part II on pronouns

Angela Ackerman said...

I don't use very many and agree that most readers don't notice. :) But, that said, I do think often the ly's edge into abuse when writers don't want to put the effort into clearly painting a picture through motion and dialogue.

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse