What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

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E McD
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by E McD » February 24th, 2010, 12:48 pm

r louis scott wrote:Adverbs burned my farm, ran off my family, and raped my cattle, and they'll do the same to you given half a chance.
Dude, if they raped your cows, that's enough for me. Adverbs be damned.
-Emily McDaniel

PaulWoodlin
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by PaulWoodlin » February 24th, 2010, 10:17 pm

When I was at the Odyssey Workshop, we were assigned an exercise that included counting how many adjectives and adverbs were in your first 500 words of story to that of your favorite prose stylist. At the time, I choose Charles Delint. In the first 500 words, I had 7 of each, he had 14 adjectives and no adverbs, so decided I needed more adjectives and fewer adverbs. Years later, I ran into his email address and sent him a fan letter, explaining the results. He wrote back, "Glad to hear about the adverbs, now I have to get rid of the adjectives!"

I give this exercise to my own students, except have them compare their two favorite authors. Adjectives always outnumber adverbs. Few famous authors use more than 10 adverbs out of 500 words. But for adjectives, the numbers can be all over the place. Austen and Hemingway are both in the 20s range, and Dickens and JK Rowling can use up to fifty adjectives in 500 words.

So my rules of thumb are precision and importance. I try to use the most precise words I can, and judge the number of words I use by the importance of the scene. If that means using an adverb or not, there you go.

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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by PaulWoodlin » February 24th, 2010, 11:02 pm

Sorry to post again so soon, but I got to thinking while eating.

Let's use the previous example of "he said angrily" vs "he said" followed by the gesture with the fist.

He said "angrily" implies to me that he merely said something with no physical gesture, so if there was no physical gesture, this suggests to me that the alternative would be something like "He said, raising his voice." But if you've been told by an editor to cut X words, that can become "angrily" pretty fast, or "snapped" or "shouted" or "growled" but people who don't like adverbs often don't like "saidisms" either.

But let us say this is an argument between a man and a woman and the man uses the same gesture or tone of voice that her abusive father used to. Suddenly, description becomes pretty important. I've seen the reverse, too, in a movie in which a woman is in a relationship with a potential abuser and doesn't realize it until she sees a gesture commonly used by the man also used by his abusive father. All the father had to do was lick some salt off his hand and pow, the woman and the viewer have the dynamic slammed into their face.

I don't really believe in rules of writing, but I do believe in rules of thumb.

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » February 25th, 2010, 9:23 am

I think one of the things that hasn't been mentioned in regards to the dialogue thing is that the cutting of adverbs should not necessarily mean its replacement by an action beat. Occasionally, perhaps. But that gets really clunky after awhile too. The real point is that either the adverb is redundant (the dialogue's tone already being clear) or the dialogue is insufficient. If you need the adverb the problem may not be with the adverb or the addition of an action to "show" the tone... but the failure of the dialogue itself to "show" its intent and tone.

Thus you often don't need either:

he said angrily

or

he said, clenching his fist.

You just need:

he said.

Because if the dialogue is precise enough that's all that should be needed. For me, the first thing to do when you see adverbs cropping up after dialogue is to interrogate the dialogue. Is it clear enough? Does it already convey the proper emotional tenor? If not, how could I revise it to do so?

That's why some people call adverbs lazy. It's easier to slap on an adverb (or even a description of explanatory action) than it is to perfect the dialogue itself. They all have their places, of course, and their uses. But I think the dialogue should always say as much as possible itself. It should carry its own weight wherever possible.
The Alchemy of Writing at www.alchemyofwriting.blogspot.com

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Lorelei Armstrong
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by Lorelei Armstrong » February 25th, 2010, 11:25 am

Agree with Ink 100%.

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Scott
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by Scott » February 25th, 2010, 12:48 pm

Lunetta22 wrote:"You dirtily wrote a sentence involving the word apparently?" I said disgustedly.
To which I replied, "It's closer to say I became increasingly dirtier whilst writing a sentence using the word 'apparently', but the true extent of my dirtiness hadn't become apparent until I more closely reviewed the sentence in which I not so clumsily––as it happens––used the word."

*faints*

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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by Lunetta22 » February 25th, 2010, 10:54 pm

Scott wrote:
Lunetta22 wrote:"You dirtily wrote a sentence involving the word apparently?" I said disgustedly.
To which I replied, "It's closer to say I became increasingly dirtier whilst writing a sentence using the word 'apparently', but the true extent of my dirtiness hadn't become apparent until I more closely reviewed the sentence in which I not so clumsily––as it happens––used the word."

*faints*
My mouth dropped open most shockingly. "I hope that you refrained from writing such appallingly dirty things for the next few pages. I have heard from a most reliable source that the only way to write a book appropriately is to have one adverb per page. I saved all of mine for the last page, it has well over three hundred adverbs I simply cannot part with."

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Lorelei Armstrong
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by Lorelei Armstrong » February 26th, 2010, 12:42 am

From a beta reader today: "It's so clean! There are no adverbs at all!"

BlancheKing
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by BlancheKing » February 26th, 2010, 10:31 pm

The short answer:
they're superfluous

The long answer:
The silent modifiers that gently creep into your blessed writing will immensely detract from your highly personalized, developed style of fiction writing, which in turn will undoubtedly, needlessly, absolutely disastrously, ubiquitously, esoterically, kinetically, and salmon-fishly ruin your chances with an agent.
One manuscript, One dream, One stack of stamps that needs to be bought...
Writing Process: http://blancheking.blogspot.com/

Margo
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by Margo » April 5th, 2010, 2:27 pm

Regarding PaulWoodlin's post about adjectives, I've had a total of two editors and four professional novelists tell me a good rule of thumb is one adjective per noun. Of course, I've noticed this is just a rule of thumb, is difficult with descriptions of hair, and doesn't address how many nouns per sentence may have accompanying adjectives while maintaining their modesty.

Regarding bovine-raping adverbs, I'm speechless with admiration. I may have a new email signature line, attributed, of course.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

Margo
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by Margo » April 6th, 2010, 11:41 am

E McD wrote: And while I'm at it, does anyone else remember "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here"? Schoolhouse Rock, baby. God, it's late...
Schoolhouse Rock is the reason I was able to write the preamble to the US Constitution on my 7th grade government exam at record speed and why I count everything in 3's. But, really, Conjunction Junction has a little more groove to it, which is good since it's going to be stuck in my head all day.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

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Mira
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by Mira » April 6th, 2010, 12:01 pm

Interesting post. That was funny about the cows.

I agree with the poster. I like adverbs. I like them alot. They are quick, to the point, convey the message. For example, "He said angrily" seems to me to be a fine sentence. I like it.

Now, what you don't want is a bunch of adverbs all in a row, but that has more to do with repitition and rhythm. So, for me, I've decided it's best not to write with hard and fast rules, but to look for what fits best with the tone and the pacing. If an adverb works there, go with the adverb.

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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by Margo » April 6th, 2010, 12:06 pm

Mira wrote:For example, "He said angrily" seems to me to be a fine sentence. I like it.
Except that it breaks the cardinal rule by telling instead of showing. That can be a legitimate way to intentionally short cut (and James Scott Bell's book on plot and structure does briefly discuss when you might want to try it), but it's a killer most of the time.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

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Mira
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by Mira » April 6th, 2010, 12:12 pm

Margo - but never telling and only showing is another hard and fast rule that I question. Sometimes it may be better to tell.

I'm not saying there isn't value to the 'rules', but I think it's important to do what's best for your writing. "He said angrily" may work better in context.

But that's just me - I tend to write on instinct rather than by guidelines, and that may not be everyone's way to write.

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Holly
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by Holly » April 6th, 2010, 12:32 pm

Mira wrote:Interesting post. That was funny about the cows.

I agree with the poster. I like adverbs. I like them alot. They are quick, to the point, convey the message. For example, "He said angrily" seems to me to be a fine sentence. I like it.

Now, what you don't want is a bunch of adverbs all in a row, but that has more to do with repitition and rhythm. So, for me, I've decided it's best not to write with hard and fast rules, but to look for what fits best with the tone and the pacing. If an adverb works there, go with the adverb.
Just the other day I wrote "she said breathlessly" about a character who rushes across Union Station in a chase scene. I could say it another way, show how she is out of breath, but that sentence didn't need all those words.

The grammar experts have terrorized me away from adverbs -- I feel like a kid at a party and somebody just slapped my hands away from the cheese tray -- but heck and gosh-damn, sometimes I just gotta use 'em.

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