This week: About Those AdverbsEdited by: Northernwrites
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Greetings from Northernwrites , guest editor for today's For Authors newsletter.
Today we'll be talking about what else you can do with -ly adverbs.
About Those Adverbs
Review comment: A general verb plus an -ly adverb can usually be replaced by a more specific verb that includes both pieces of information.
The reason reviewers pay attention to adverbs isn't because adverbs are bad (since they aren't bad). The concern is not really about using adverbs or over-using them. It's the question of how strong can you make your writing -- in either prose or poetry. In other words:
Can you do better than that?
When it comes to describing something, the -ly adverbs are the weakest kind of word you can use. In the hierarchy of verbal muscle, verbs come first, then verbals, nouns, prepositions, adjectives, and at the bottom, adverbs -- and the -ly kind are the weakest of the adverbs.
Because verbs are at the top of the list, the advice usually gets abbreviated to try for a better verb first. That's not the only option. You could improve the text in other ways which take more words.
Also, the number of words is not the main concern when pruning to create lean prose. It's the question of whether each word is pulling at least its own weight. More words that do a bigger job can still be lean prose. We prune prose to get rid of filler, deadwood, and redundant information. [Editing to a specific word count is a different matter.]
In the review comment above, the sentence says "usually" -- the advice works most of the time but not always.
If a specific verb is available that works, use the specific verb by itself. This is the first choice option.
If not, then maybe you're stuck with the adverb -- unless you can use the deeper details of the motion to show the little packet of telling information that's wrapped up in that adverb. For example:
A person who was walking carefully on wet rocks near the ocean could be careful in a variety of observable ways:
He kept his center of gravity over the trailing foot until the stepping foot was in position on the next rock, and then shifted forward.
He timed his stepping to when the next rock was not awash with the tide.
He held his arms out for better balance. [This one includes intent, so he has to be the POV character.]
Carefully could be changed to the adjective careful or noun form care. Either of these options can be a weak fix. They don't change the prose that much. They're still telling. For example:
He was careful as he stepped from one wet rock to the next until he reached ....
Being careful, he stepped from one wet rock to the next until he reached ....
He stepped with care from one wet rock to the next until he reached ....
Another option is to combine the adjective with another adjective or adverb or additional information to give a somewhat better picture. This uses the adjective as a function word (like a peg) to hang extra information on. Thus, there is a reason for using an adjective. This is one way to integrate small bits of setting or character information into the action. Note that these small bits are not being added to the main clause as the subject, verb, or direct object. They're tucked away in modifiers. For example:
Always careful, he stepped from one wet rock to the next until he reached ....
Surefooted yet careful, he stepped from one wet rock to the next until he reached ....
Careful of slipping on bird droppings, he stepped from one wet rock to the next until he reached ....
Taking care not to tip his clam bucket, he stepped from one wet rock to the next until he reached ....
Of course, if the sense of the adverb is included in the verb already, you can just delete the redundant adverb.
Adverbs in Speech Tags
The adverbs in speech tags are the same as adverbs anywhere else. These rewriting strategies will work with them, also. However, in speech tags, the adverbs are only part of the problem.
The most effective strategy for dealing with the entire speech tag problem is to start with the rewriting strategy outlined in point #6 of "Annoying Word Repetition" , and then use the strategies here as needed.
Today's reads are about beaches.
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These comments were submitted the last time I was a guest editor for the For Authors newsletter, "For Authors Newsletter (July 1, 2009)" , on the topic of Sounding Natural in Real Life Stories. I appreciate all who took the time to write in.
Comment: Excellent article on "writing like you talk"...it really explains how writing IS different from real life interactions and how the written word must stand or fall on it's own merits.
I think that's one reason on line "talking/chatting" frequently ends in arguments...there are too many ways to misinterpret what is written since there are no visual or tonal clues to clarify what is being "said".
NW: Thank you. I think you're right.
alfred booth, wanbli ska
Comment: You've written a highly informative and absolutely necessary NewLetter on a subject many writers tend to ignore. Clarity, clarity and more clarity. Thank you for placing the obvious before the readers of WDC.
Comment: Back before writing became commonplace, storytelling was the main vehicle for literature. I'm sure that storytelling wasn't bound by the show don't tell rule of writing. Facial expressions gestures and even voice inflections could be used to impart drama.
NW: Hm. Those all look like more ways of "showing" to me. As a package, because you can't evaluate it any other way, the rule still holds. Considering the effect it has on the writing and the reader, I'd call it a rule that frees the storytelling. Like fine chocolate, once you've experienced it done right, ordinary writing just doesn't satisfy.
Comment: What excellent information on writer's voice in the 7-2 newsletter! Very informative, one of the best newsletters yet. Northernwrites not only has an easy, clean writer's voice (practices what is preached), but Northernwrites gives very good advice on a subject that's easy to talk about but not so easy to advise how to actually accomplish. Invisible prose was only touched on but what was said enlightened me on a subject and skill I had never thought of or about until now. Thanks for that! Even though I'd like to read an entire newsletter devoted to invisible prose (with tips and examples, diagrams, graphs, illustrations, references, etc etc), I'm not really sure much more can be said about it as it seems to be a skill that is either born to or developed and learned with practice/time ---but I sure hope Northernwrites thinks about it: ) Thanks for the inspiration!
NW: Thank you!
Writing invisible prose isn't something people are born with or that they automatically achieve with experience. Writers who can do it are using a specific set of skills and knowledge, and working at a deeper level of detail. It would probably take a whole book to explain everything they're doing. However, the information in the editorial of this newsletter would be another (small) piece of it.
Comment: I am so impressed. You explained to me what many have tried to explain to me in the past. I got in my own way... interesting. Thank you!
NW: You're welcome!
Comment: Another good letter, Northernwrites. So many new writers relate 'Voice' with writing like they talk, and this explains why it isn't so, and does it very well. I especially appreciate this line. Successful writing is written by a writer who cares about the readers. It's a great quote for me to steal!
NW: Thank you!
50K or bust
Comment: Another in depth and timely newsletter. I read it all and fully agree. I just don't get grammer, I have books but to me it is like reading Greek. I think I will have to pay an editor to make sure what I publish is correct. Acknowledging that, I don't worry about it. I write for plot and get it out of my head and in print; hen I go back and re read; trying to see what is wrong. OCD English prof's, you are welcome to edit my writing if you are feeling that urge and yours is perfect.
Northern-you have a great newsletter!
I know the feeling. For a long time, grammar was meaningless to me, too. We all have different learning styles, and sometimes learning depends on getting the right kind of explanation. Keep looking. You never know when you'll find the key you need to unlock the system.
Until our paths cross again, keep writing!
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