Thursday, January 13, 2011

Tip Thursday - Adverb Adventure

I learned a lot of things from my first crit group. One of the first "rules" I learned was the whole "don't use adverbs" thing. I balked at this one. I just didn't get the reasoning. I LIKED adverbs. I still like adverbs. And I use them, frequently. At least in my first drafts. (Okay, a lot of the pesky little buggers DO make their way into subsequent drafts, but I really do try to keep them out of there.) :D

It took me a while to really understand why adverbs are kind of a no-no. In fact, it wasn't until I started paying more attention to them in the published books I was reading that I finally got it.

They are telling. And sometimes just plain irritating. But mostly, too telling, and often unnecessary.

For example, you could say:

"Don't do that!" Jessica shouted angrily.

1. It's unnecessary. There's an exclamation point. She's shouting. And chances are good the content of the scene in addition to her shouting have already let us know she's doing it angrily. You don't need the adverb.

2. It's telling us she's angry, not showing us. Don't just tell us....bring on the anger! Let us see her eyes flashing, her face turning red, the spit flying from her lips as she screams. Isn't that more entertaining to read than "angrily"?

Now, do you need to cut every single adverb in your book? Of course not. There are instances where adverbs are totally warranted. Like I said, I do use them. Sometimes a good adverb is the best fit for whatever you are trying to say. However, most of the time, I try to use them just as place holders in my first drafts...when I know I should be more "showing" and descriptive but feel the need to get some words out and the more descriptive phrase eludes me. But I try to go back through and replace them with something better (though, yeah, a lot slip through the cracks. Just ask my crit partners...they are endlessly slashing them (hehe I used an adverb...shhhhh)).

And a few here and there aren't going to kill your story - they might even help. So don't go axing all the adverbs in your manuscript just yet....but, try to pay attention to what you are doing the next time you put one in. Does it really need to be there? Is adding it making your sentence too telling? Can you show whatever you are trying to describe better?

One thing I have noticed is that adverbs in dialogue tags are almost always unnecessary. She said, angrily. He said, amusingly. I said sadly.

These emotions can almost always be better conveyed through the characters' actions and the dialogue itself. So, while it is something I will probably always struggle with, it is a "rule" I finally agree with and will continue to work on.

How do you feel about the "adverb rule"?


Liza said...

Getting rid of adverbs is one of the best lessons I learned with regard to cleaning up my writing. A good reminder now and again is a helpful. Thanks.

Jamie Grey said...

I love my adverbs - they're like warm fuzzy sweaters - safe and comfortable. Unfortunately, I know that most of the time there is a better way to say something and I'm just being lazy.

I had the same experience - my first crit group pounded them from my work. They've snuck back a little now, but I'm still hyper conscious of them when I revise. Probably because I just let 'em flow when I'm first drafting :) They serve a purpose, but they're definitley easy to over use.

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I fought against the adverb rule also for a while but now I'm like you. They're scattered about in my first draft and then I hunt them down in the second.

Christine Fonseca said...

Dude! You had me with the title!!!

Stephanie McGee said...

Just as with any rule of writing, there's a time for it to be strictly adhered to and a time for it to be ignored in its entirety. It's just a matter of fine-tuning one's gut to understand the circumstances of either action.

Katrina L. Lantz said...

I'm like you; it took me longer to accept this rule than it seemed to take everyone around me. :) It took Lindsay's gentle prodding: "show this a bit more" and "I want to see what she is doing with her arms here." Eventually <-- I got it. But I will probably always struggle with it as well. LY words are so pretty!

Awesome tip, as always, Michelle. And guess what!! I got your book today! This morning, my husband was leaving for work and he turned around and plopped a package in my lap. Yay!!! I want you to know that I'll be using this resource in a decade (probably for a decade) to teach my little ones about essay. This is going to be a priceless resource for us. I read chapter fifteen and loved recognizing that same voice in your tutor posts that's so easy for me to follow.


Matthew Rush said...

I'm pretty ambivalent about it. I mean I do believe that less is more, but you can't cut them all or else you'll have a scene full of arm crossing, eye rolling and heavy sighing. At least you will if you have several characters in a conversation at once.

Michelle McLean said...

lol very true Matt :D

Katrina L. Lantz said...

Matt, that sounds like a family reunion with certain of my in-laws. LOL! Are you writing about my in-laws?

Anonymous said...

I think, as with all things, adverbs should be used in moderation. Personally, I like them. ;)

The Golden Eagle said...

I would say it depends on the circumstances, and in what kind of sentence it's in. No adverbs just wouldn't work--if they were created, it seems like there should be a time and place to use them.

Hanny said...

I definitely benefited from getting rid of this crutch. To me, it just screams over-writing and (dare I say it) a bit of laziness.
Not that they're bad all the time; just when they're overused.

Vicki Rocho said...

I'm hearing Schoolhouse Rock now -- lolli lolli lolli get your adverbs here. hahaha.