What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

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

Post by Margo » April 6th, 2010, 12:57 pm

I agree that using an adverb does save words (sometimes), but I think they do so at a cost too high to pay...flat writing, in most cases. I have never seen an adverbial dialogue tag that could not have been replaced by providing stronger dialogue, though I have seen fairly unoffensive adverbial tags (Holly's example of "she said breathlessly" being one that doesn't particularly grate the nerves). Modifying verbs, they are (in my opinion) far inferior to one strong verb, and using them this way counteracts the whole "using them for the sake of brevity" idea.

In the end, I suspect it comes down to which school of thought you embrace in writing. To over-generalize, I'd say that people who write with the sheer force of inspiration tend to feel that guidelines must bend to the art, while people who approach writing more as a craft tend to use the structure of the guidelines to support and strengthen their story. Some people see a fence, and everything in them tells them to go over it. Others look at the space within the fence and envision what they could do in the context of the space.

That being said, all adverbs should still die a hideous death. :)
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polymath
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by polymath » April 6th, 2010, 1:15 pm

The question I ask of an attribution clause like "she said angrily" is who's doing the reporting and in what mode of discourse? Is the narrator directly addressing or indirectly addressing an audience? Or is a viewpoint character's consciousness indirectly reporting events through interaction with his/her meaning space? Communication verbs like said can be in either direct or indirect discourse or free indirect discourse. Telling, a narrator directly interacting with an audience, real or implied: Diegesis or diexis is direct reporting. Showing, a viewpoint character's interaction with his/her meaning space: Mimesis is indirect or non-reporting reporting.

Examples;

Direct discourse:
Tim found the rude note Marge left in his suitcase. "She's a bonehead," he said* angrily.
Indirect discourse:
Tim angrily said* Marge is a busybody .
Free indirect discourse:
He angrily ripped the note into tiny pieces. So she believes she has the right to tell* him how to behave. He'll see about that.

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

Post by Margo » April 6th, 2010, 1:18 pm

polymath wrote:The question I ask of an attribution clause like "she said angrily" is who's doing the reporting and in what mode of discourse? Is the narrator directly addressing or indirectly addressing an audience? Or is a viewpoint character's consciousness indirectly reporting events through interaction with his/her meaning space? Communication verbs like said can be in either direct or indirect discourse or free indirect discourse.
Oh, that's an interesting way to conceptualize this. I'm likin' it. I shall have to spend some time pondering this one. Good post.
Urban fantasy, epic fantasy, and hot Norse elves. http://margolerwill.blogspot.com/

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

Post by polymath » April 6th, 2010, 1:35 pm

Thank you, Margo.

It's been a year now since I first grasped the distinctions of various discourse types. The writing exercises I've been doing lately demonstrate the exponential leap in caliber I've sought for my storytelling craft. Discourse is not an easy topic of study. I find pondering and study and application essential for mastering the various techniques of discourse types.
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A.M.Kuska
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by A.M.Kuska » April 6th, 2010, 10:25 pm

I was told to look at them as the piece of accent jewelry you put on with your favorite outfit. A bracelet here, necklace there is beautiful and adds to your work. 50 necklaces makes it look like don't know how to dress.

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

Post by Paolito » April 9th, 2010, 8:34 pm

Okay, so I'm wordy (this isn't one of my novels), but here's what I think about adverbs.

Okay, so you're a big fan of Anne Perry's Victorian mysteries. By all means keep reading them...but not for great writing. Crack open one of her novels at any page, and you will see adverbs galore (e.g., she said gaily, angrily, ly, ly, ly…) and you will hear most agents and editors screaming.

Use as few adverbs as possible because every book on the craft of writing fiction tells you so--okay, so that's not a good enough reason--and because they
1. tell rather than show,
2. tend to prop up weak verbs,
3. don’t add much value (especially adverbs like absolutely, actually, completely, constantly, continually, continuously, finally, hopefully, incredibly, ironically, literally, really, totally, and unfortunately), and
4. rob you of the opportunity to say something fresher or more profound.

If your dialogue is strong, the words will be angry words...adding ‘she said angrily’ should be (totally) unnecessary. Or, if the words are calm and you want to show that the person saying them is hiding her anger, have her body language reflect her anger.

A novice writer might say, “Your faithful sentinel brings news to his patron, sire,” he said haughtily.”

Contrast that with the way Kerry Dunn expresses the same idea in his unpublished thriller, Joe Peace: “‘Your faithful sentinel brings news to his patron, sire,’ he said in this bullshit Renaissance Festival voice that made you hate England.”

Do you see how Kerry reveals the listener’s character at the same time as he injects humor? And all because he didn’t use an adverb.

The same goes for prose. “Racing” up the stairs is stronger than “running quickly” up the stairs any day.

Here’s how Gail Anderson-Dargatz describes a character’s manner of speaking in The Cure for Death by Lightning instead of using an adverb:
“The words she said sometimes rose up so that I could almost catch them, then slipped down again.”

You can get away with your characters using adverbs, but do go easy or your characters might sound too much alike, or even dated (as in “totally awesome.”)

There are exceptions, the unusual adverb, for example:

“Come fall, the stump was flagrantly, shamefully red in a coat of dying leaves from the surrounding trees.” (from The Cure for Death by Lightning by Gail Anderson-Dargatz)

“And it surely wasn’t a major disappointment when the so fuckingly important judge died of natural causes.” (from Swoop by me)

How do you find the unusual adverbs? Think outside the box. The first example uses adverbs you might (normally) apply to a person’s actions, and the second uses a made-up word.

Do great writers use adverbs? All the time, but not all the time. The difference between strong writing and weak writing is a question of degree. Here’s an example from an internationally acclaimed writer:

“Mrs. Humphrey begins to cry again, gently, effortlessly, as if the songs are a kind of birdsong.” (from Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood.)

By all means use adverbs--very carefully.

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

Post by Ishta » April 10th, 2010, 1:05 am

Great discussion.

An earlier post - the one that pointed out that the "classics" are riddled with adverbs - has me wondering if the "avoid adverbs at all costs" rule is more a reflection of current trends in literature, and will fade or strengthen over time, perhaps as different types of books (literary fiction vs. graphic novels vs. commercial fiction vs. popular science vs......) become more or less popular?

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C. Michael Fontes
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by C. Michael Fontes » May 18th, 2010, 5:04 pm

Here is my take on the matter, and please feel free to correct me :)

The rule, "never use adverbs," or, "only use adverbs that don't end in 'ly'," or all of the other variations out there was intended to make writers throw away week modifiers in place of better verbs. All too often, writers will choose a modifier+verb instead of the proper verb. Example:

"He spoke quietly."

vs.

"He whispered." < there are, of course, several different possibilities.

Unfortunately, I think the rule has grown into a monster who feeds on the flesh of new writers. Trained and coddled by unsuspecting lobbyists for the anti-adverb movement, the rule has lost its intention. Instead of helping/forcing writers to use stronger verbs (hence, tighter prose), the rule has been blindly used to abolish the poor little adverb from any manuscript in town.

I suggest that the adverb should only be slaughtered from your sentence if:

1) A stronger verb can be found to replace the adverb+verb combo... the new word must be common enough that your target audience doesn't need a dictionary
2) The adverb is redundant. IE: "He whispered quietly."
3) The adverb is replacing emotion that should be shown instead of told. IE: "He laughed happily."
4) The adverb is but one in a series (bad bad bad bad !). IE: "He quickly and quietly jumped over the log."
5) Removing the adverb doesn't change the meaning of the sentence at all

On the contrary, if the only way to remove the adverb is to replace it with a million dollar scrabble word, or if removing it would change the meaning and there is no clean way of showing the same thing, while retaining your voice, flow and cadence/rhythm, then leave the little fellow in there. Let him shine, and do his job. After all, adverbs are part of the language, too.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Post by dupko » July 31st, 2012, 2:47 pm

A.M.Kuska wrote:I was told to look at them as the piece of accent jewelry you put on with your favorite outfit. A bracelet here, necklace there is beautiful and adds to your work. 50 necklaces makes it look like don't know how to dress.
First world problem :lol:
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