Saturday, May 11, 2013

Those nasty adverbs

I’m probably not the one to talk about this.

I use them a lot. Religiously, in fact. They just inadvertently slip in. I write away and Miss Anti-ly Lady - she’s an awesome critiquers - finds them. Inevitably. What’s wrong with a few adverbs here and there? How do you do without them? I mean really?

Some of them I can do without. When Anti-ly sees them, and she sees them all, a good most of them don’t need to be there. I pull them out. But others I like.

I have been studying the idea and pulled ideas from the sites listed below. There are a few reasons not to use adverbs. They weaken your writing. It shows the author somehow needs to choose another way to express an idea. And lastly, a while ago as they were compiling a book of rules for writers, someone said don’t use –ly words. Everybody went along with it and now it’s the law.

In terms of weakened writing, I understand and I agree. It’s a show, don’t tell thing. The following, for example, presents one sentence stronger than the other.
-“Why did you do that?” she asked angrily.
-“Why did you do that?” she hissed.
It does show a physical cliché that Julie Daines referred to in a February post. But without the adverb, it is stronger.  

There are adverbs that are unnecessary.
-Jack stealthily hid behind the door. He quickly pulled out a knife. He finally decided to confront his assailant.
None of the sentences need the adverbs. June Casgrande blogs that they are stronger without them. And packed in a tight space the wording doesn’t sound comfortable.

The Emert site gives great examples of superfluous adverbs. The adverb is unnecessary in the radio blared loudly or totally flabbergasted as blared infers loud and flabbergasted implies astonishment that is total.

I get that. But adverbs must exist for a reason. A health nut would want to know if her food is organically grown. When a person smiles, they could smile mischievously but if they did so shyly, wickedly, or joyfully, it paints a different picture. Sometimes messages must be spoken emphatically. You can’t have your characters give up –ly words just to fall back to physical clichés. I like adverbs.

What is wrong with adverbs in dialogue? My middle grade MC is still working on figuring out his place in the world and he uses adverbs. Seriously. It is how kids and people speak. If I want my dialogue to sound kid-like, seems an adverb here or there wouldn’t hurt.

The most persuasive site I found in objection to adverbs is Erik Emert’s 2001site.
This is a compilation of the rules, the ones writers are supposed to adhere to. Emert sites some big names in writing, Browne and King, and others, so you have to listen. Perhaps I am too much of an amateur to fully understand. And please pardon my adverb. It just slipped in. But it clarifies my meaning.

So, “they” say you shouldn’t use –ly words. Others justify their existence if used judiciously. For Anti-ly Lady, they stick out. I don’t know about you, but I’ll still slip a few in once in a while.

Carol Williams shared a story at an SCBWI event this year. She had laid down the law on adverbs. A student dutifully obeyed but had a heck of a time avoiding referring to her family. And they couldn’t fly anywhere. I say let’s lighten up on –ly words.


WYFIR reminder. Don't be too late to sign up for this wonderful conference. Discount for SCBWI members.



Scott said...

I had a professor who claimed that adjectives and adverbs show that the writer lacks confidence in his nouns and verbs. What if that mischievous smile becomes a smirk or a sneer? Smiling sadly, however, is interesting because sad and smile don't usually go together, but we can all picture a sad smile. "Tiptoe and carry a big stick" lacks the power of the original.

I don't think it's a good idea to eliminate all adverbs. But when revising, an adverb is an invitation to look for a more powerful, more confident verb, and then to decide whether the sentence is more evocative with the adverb or the other verb

Scott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Julie Daines said...

It's been my experience that there are always exceptions. But only if the exception is done well--and sparingly. :)