Thursday, March 27, 2008

They're JUST adverbs

In an earlier post, I mentioned my belief that writers cannot be objective about their own work. For example, I had a character utter the following sentence in dialogue: "'I'm bored," Sam said, stifling a yawn." Advice: if a character says he's bored, chances are, the reader is, too. Bad writing. Didn't even catch it, but a reader did.

Any great writing teacher, will tell you: avoid adverbs (to which I want to raise my hand and ask, "Completely?"). I had a teacher who said adverbs were like mice. They multiplied when you weren't looking, littered themselves throughout your manuscript never to be noticed again. And when do we notice? We're worried about plot, characters, pacing, suspense, setting, dialogue, arcs, titles, chapter breaks, names, realism, style, flow, book tours, the Pulitzer. Okay, well maybe not so much the last two. Point is, who cares about a pesky adverb?

Truth is, they are like mice. Want a different metaphor? They're artery cloggers. No single one shuts down the system, but get enough clumped around a verb, a paragraph, a novel, and you'll have full cardiac arrest (read: rejection).

One of the worst adverbs is the qualifier VERY. I just ran a check on the first third of my novel (40,000 words). I have 23 very's. Many are in dialogue, but I'm thinking at least 20 can go.

23 out of 40,000 isn't terrible, but I can give myself no pats on the back yet, for I've happened on the most nefarious of adverbs: JUST. Ran the check (Oh, God, the horror). I have 165. And that's only the first third of my manuscript. Do I self-flagellate, cut my wrists, buy a headstone? No, but there will be an amphibious landing on the black sands of JUST, and we will plant the Good Writing flag on Mt. Adverbial if it kills us. Sorry. Melodramatic digression.

As writers, we must pay attention. We don't see what we aren't looking for. Test the theory and look at this video. Pay careful attention. When you see how right I am, then stage your own amphibious assault. (adverb count on this post: 15. Jeesh).

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