Thursday, May 12, 2011
Stupid Writing Rules : Watch Adverbs
By the ever opinionated E.C. Stacy
It happened a few weeks ago, causing me to retrieve my previously disregarded idea of writing a post about adverbs and their usage. I sat in on a critique group. One of the members commented on an adverb used by another writer, saying “watch those.” It was the only adverb on the page. Just one in a throng of about 300 words! A concise modifier obviously chosen to project an image. This critique member had no business cautioning the writer. What tipped me off to the lack of expertise was the person’s failure to detect adverbs on later pages that did not end in ly. For example the italicized words in the following sentences are adverbs. Jack laughed so hard he choked. Don’t be late.
Before I deconstruct this, it’s fair to let you know my rant today is not intended to attack the adverb police officer. It’s just that I’m reminded—as with the pseudo rules show don’t tell now to be called show when you can, tell when you have to, and discarding was which now shouldn’t be acknowledged at all—that newcomers to this writing game need clear guidance rather than indiscriminate rules. I can only speculate that the judge of the adverb usage, although intending to be helpful, offered the comment as a result of improper brainwashing. Lest we forget, adverbs shine as part of our grammar just like adjectives. They can be exclamatory, explanatory, and just plain old good fun. Example: it was a pants-wettingly hilarious show! Not only should a writer be able to use one adverb out of 300 words, they should show off with adverbs whenever they’re the right term for getting the message across. Don’t believe me? Crack open a J.K. Rowling epic and your Crap Meter will peg.
Agreed, some new writers fail to use the sharper alternatives for adverbs (such as: walked quietly as opposed to crept) resulting in an evaluator to utter the dreadfully misguided rule. But anyone who is really getting into the thick of writing will praise adverbs. For instance, every writer runs into this blasé statement: he smiled. That sentence is fine if it’s a plain smile. What if he doesn’t want to smile, though? What if he’s worried? He smiled sheepishly provides the reader with a succinct picture. See? Adverbs work exceptionally well for showing and should have never gotten a warning label tacked on to them.