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.

12 comments:

Dean K Miller said...

Being new in this world I am amazed at the constant back and forth of rules, usages, etc. All of the words are wise, but put together I'd find a ream of pages with contradictory opinions.

This post seems quite reasonable. I admit I do a search for "ly" words, and certainly (Agh!!) discarding some of them makes my script sharper and better to read.
And then of course, I leave behind the non-ly adverbs, just like you say.

Dare I say, this post was wonderfully written...at least until I hit "ctrl-F"...
Thanks

Karen Lange said...

Good post. I agree with you; I think the crusade to eliminate adverbs has gotten out of hand.

I don't like the "ly" ones I see overused in tag lines if it can be done another way...but otherwise, used carefully, like you said, they have their place.

N. R. Williams said...

I sat through an entire year of having my adverbs blasted in critique. It is true, we need them when the sentence is stronger and the meaning clearer.
Nancy
N. R. Williams, The Treasures of Carmelidrium

Brent Wescott said...

Thanks for this post. I've only recently started stalking writing blogs and have found the rule of "no adverbs" has a vice grip on some novice writers. The worst is when the writer/advisor uses phrases like "don't use -ly words" as if for some reason adverbs with -ly on the end are worse than adverbs without. But I think the fault is that they don't quite know what an adverb is, but they've heard the inane rule.

How many adverbs did I use there?

Kara_Malinczak said...

Thank you so much for this post. I have thought the anti-adverb rule was crazy from the very beginning and I never really understood why it started in the first place. Adverbs can be extremely useful when you need them. The bottom line as always, is everything in moderation.

Chiseled in Rock said...

Well, I just have to love anyone who agrees with me. ;) Thanks Kara and Brent!

E.C.

Edna said...

I'm grateful for your post! It is frustrating when someone in the critique group misses some amazing scenes or even some plot missteps, but points out every adverb on the page, even if there are only one or two. Well said. I'm going to copy it and take it with me to group!

LB said...

Thank God! A voice of reason! Some adverbs, are of course to be avoided... very, really, etc. Vague words to be sure. But in general an adverb is a useful tool!

Chiseled in Rock said...

Thank you, Edna and LB. I have to admit that I had to learn how to refine the usage of an adverb, but the rule "watch those," was a misconception. This series has about three more installments before shifting over to another about how to get the most out of critiques. The final of "Stupid," will culminate several of my previous points and direct writers to resources that will continue to help them with these types of bumps. I could have started the series by offering the resources to be revealed, but then I would have deprived myself of the fun of writing this snarky series. Hope you've enjoyed them. :)

E.C.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Mystery and YA author Sophie Littlefield does an outstanding job with adjectives and adverbs in her novels, A Bad Day for Sorry and A Bad Day for Pretty. She breaks all those adverb/adjective rules but for her main character, Stella Hardesty, the technique establishes personality and setting.

Ann Best said...

Excellent post. I love it.

Show when you can, tell when you have to. Perfect.

The tone of the story, e.g. J.K. Rowling, dictates.

Bill O'Connor said...

I agree. Avoid adverbs and adjectives. But once you understand the rule, break it.