Those ghastly -ly words

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Those ghastly -ly words

Postby Rebecca Kiel » 23 Jun 2011, 09:31

"The adverb is not your friend." - Stephen King, On writing: A Memoir of the Craft

Never use adverbs in dialogue. (as in "He said loudly.")
Adverbs weaken descriptions. (as in "She closed the door loudly.")
Adverbs tell, they don't show.

We have heard it all. Agents, editors, and seasoned writers such as Orson Scott Card, Elmore Leonard, and Stephen King all warn against overusing adverbs, leaving writers everywhere to ask themselves:

If not the adverb, then what?

What is your thought on adverbs? Do you use them in writing dialogue? If not, how do you get on without?


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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby polymath » 23 Jun 2011, 09:49

The purpose of adverbs and adjectives and modifying clauses is expressing commentary. When a modifier doesn't express commentary, it's not doing all it can do, being all it can be. Doing what it's meant to do. Excise or recast for more effective writing. Effective, an adjective.

"Hooo, doggy," he said loudly. Context carries all the freight there it needs to without the lame modifier loudly.
She slammed the door. The active verb slammed carries all the freight needed of "She closed the door loudly."

Prepositioned sentence adverbs express commentary. Unfortunately, too many so-called writing rules proscribe adverb use.

Parenthetical sentence adverb of the non-ly variety. You know, however, rules are never made to be broken. And never is also an adverb of the non-ly variety.

Who was it who wisely said there are no rules, no absolutes, only fundamental principles and guidelines for effective communicating?
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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby Watcher55 » 23 Jun 2011, 10:00

I like to give the character some business. Instead of using "apologetically" I write:

The one called Samuel scratched his thigh and spoke to his feet. “No Nanna,” he confessed. “I’m sorry.”
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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby Margo » 23 Jun 2011, 10:03

I tend to stay away from them because, of all the options, they usually turn out to have the least impact.

I will tend to go for harder, more descriptive verbs (trudged instead of walked slowly, for instance).

And I will only use an adverbial dialogue tags under penalty of torture. 1000 times out of 1000 examples I will choose strong dialogue that doesn't require cliff notes for the reader over the interpretive prompt of an adverbial dialogue tag. Using 'he said angrily' is a tell used to cover up the fact that the dialogue is so weak a reader can't tell the character is angry (so we have to tell the reader how to feel, how to interpret the bland dialogue and action, etc)

The stronger dialogue and more precise action are my preference as a writer and a reader every time. I'm going to guess I'd use an adverb 2-3 times for every 10,000 words.
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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby Rebecca Kiel » 23 Jun 2011, 10:05

Polymath, great clarification on the types of adverbs. Thanks for contributing.
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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby Rebecca Kiel » 23 Jun 2011, 10:06

Watcher55, good business. Definitely showing.

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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby Margo » 23 Jun 2011, 10:07

polymath wrote:Unfortunately, too many so-called writing rules proscribe adverb use.


Like anyone listens anyway.

I'm reminded of something Donald Maass said when asked if it was possible to have too much tension in a manuscript. He said yes but he'd never seen it. The vast majority of the novels his agency turns down had way way way too little tension, so it didn't seem to make much sense to warn people off of a practice he'd never seen anyone ever do.

Can you have too few adverbs? Probably. But I've never seen it.
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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby polymath » 23 Jun 2011, 10:22

Margo wrote:I'm reminded of something Donald Maass said when asked if it was possible to have too much tension in a manuscript. He said yes but he'd never seen it. The vast majority of the novels his agency turns down had way way way too little tension, so it didn't seem to make much sense to warn people off of a practice he'd never seen anyone ever do.

Can you have too few adverbs? Probably. But I've never seen it.

About the closest I've read of novels approaching too much tension are John Steakley's Armor and William Harrison's Rollerball Murder, also made into a film and a remake.

Four Steakley short stories for sampling his writing. Not nearly as tension filled as Armor.
http://johnsteakley.com/stories.html

Now, too few adverbs? I don't know, Hemingway's writing comes close. I've read some workshop stories that lost their vitality from omitting all modifiers based on prompts given by the group. Too few, for sure, some had to be put back to breathe life back into the narrative.
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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby Leila » 23 Jun 2011, 10:56

I have to agree with Margo and Polymath.

The more I write the more I see that adverbs really do weaken, or prop up, rather than add or grow the dialogue/scene. For me, on almost every occasion I find I end up with a much stronger result if I show what the adverb is trying to tell. If that makes sense.

I'd be interested in others opinions here but I think adverbs tend to get larger airplay in YA or younger books? And even then...?
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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby Margo » 23 Jun 2011, 11:28

I just checked. When I'm using first person with a lot of the character's internal narrative...my adverb usage goes up (particularly with the use of 'really' and 'probably')
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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby Watcher55 » 23 Jun 2011, 11:43

I don't think adverbs are ghastly, but they can get that way.

Honey suckle has its place, but It has to be trained and mercilessly pruned. If it's not, it'll kill the trees and wreck your fence.

The adverb has its place, but it has to be Twain's "right" word. I definitely think every adverb should be reconsidered if not changed. If they're not, they'll kill your characters and wreck your story.
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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby Rebecca Kiel » 23 Jun 2011, 11:59

Margo, love that you went to your writing to check!!!
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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby Rebecca Kiel » 23 Jun 2011, 12:01

Watcher55, I think you are right. Adverbs are not inherently bad. They can just spoil an otherwise well-written story if overused.

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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby polymath » 23 Jun 2011, 12:58

Leila wrote:I'd be interested in others opinions here but I think adverbs tend to get larger airplay in YA or younger books? And even then...?

In one sense, or more, adverbs and modifiers are more palatable for young adult readers. Middle grade readers less so. They're still learning vocabulary and yet being discouraged from using adverbs and such. Grammar teachers have hammered them young adults with don'ts and a little rebeliousness is called for, as appropriate to young adult familial and authority detachment process behaviors, especially when adverbs serve their natural purpose artfully. Unfortunately, sadly, tragically, adverbs take a lot of guff and grief in later English studies, writing studies.
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Re: Those ghastly -ly words

Postby Watcher55 » 23 Jun 2011, 14:57

polymath wrote:
Leila wrote:I'd be interested in others opinions here but I think adverbs tend to get larger airplay in YA or younger books? And even then...?

In one sense, or more, adverbs and modifiers are more palatable for young adult readers. Middle grade readers less so. They're still learning vocabulary and yet being discouraged from using adverbs and such. Grammar teachers have hammered them young adults with don'ts and a little rebeliousness is called for, as appropriate to young adult familial and authority detachment process behaviors, especially when adverbs serve their natural purpose artfully. Unfortunately, sadly, tragically, adverbs take a lot of guff and grief in later English studies, writing studies.


Adverbs as Rebellion - who knew >:}
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