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So about those adverbs...

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Old 11-22-2008, 08:22 PM
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Default So about those adverbs...


Assuming I'm using the correct term (I'm too lazy to look it up to double check), how exactly does one reduce the number of adverbs in their writing? I have a ridiculously annoying tendency to use words with the -ly ending, and it's beginning to tick me off. When I first revised The Red Flagon, I changed many of the -ly endings to "in _______" terminology. For example, I changed "She swung her head from one side to the next nervously," to "She swung her from one side to the next in a gesture of nerves." Now I seem to have a problem with using #2 too often. How can I assist the reader in seeing rather than reading what is happening? In essence, how can I "show," rather than "tell?" I've been told extensive adverb usage is not a good habit to have, and so I am trying to break said habit. Is there a need? Any help is appreciated =]

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Old 11-23-2008, 02:43 AM
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Adverbs have the effect of weakening your writing. Usually they're used to modify a verb. Take a look at these few examples:

The stone sank quickly
The bell clanged loudly

Now, ask yourself if the adverbs in these sentences actually do anything for the sentence. Can a stone sink slowly? No, it can't. So, essentially, that's a wasted word and it's an example of lazy writing.

Can a bell clang anything other than loudly? Have you heard a soft clang of a bell? No, so again this is a redundant adverb which does nothing for your sentence. The key is to gauge the relationship between the adverb and the verb it modifies. Are they saying the same thing? If so, omit the adverb hastily.

It isn't only redundancies that adverbs encourage. They encourage lazy writing too. Take this sentence, for instance:

He whispered to her lovingly.

There are many things he could whisper to her, but this just seems lazy. Not to mention the fact that it's telling. This would be far more dramatic:

He whispered words of love: My angel, my dear, sweet lover. He purred his contentment, his joy.

A wise man once said that most adverbs (and adjectives; if you need help with those, do ask) are unnecessary, and he was right. The next time you write a piece of work, strip out all the adverbs and adjectives and let the prose stand on its own two feet. Don't "prettify" it with adverbs and adjectives. Now, can you still understand it? Does it still paint the picture you wanted it to with all the excessive adverbs and adjectives? If it does, then you've discovered that you don't truly need adjectives and adverbs.
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Old 11-23-2008, 06:28 AM
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Bah humbug. Adverbs perform an important function, and when used correctly (itself an adverb) enhance your writing. Pray tell, how else would one say:

Wearily, he climbed the stairs to bed.

Oh, I'm sure there are other ways, but are they necessarily (oops, another adverb! lol) better? There is absolutely (I'm on a roll! ) nothing wrong with the above sentence.

I like adverbs and adjectives, and stripping them all out makes for very dull writing. Yes, it is important to use strong, powerful verbs (strong and powerful are adjectives, by the way, and necessary here because verb on its own says nothing ) and to make sure that you are using the right words all the way through to convey your meaning, but by avoiding one thing, you just become dependent on another - as you have discovered. So don't avoid adjectives and adverbs, just don't let your writing become dependent on them.

Oh, and if anyone tells you to avoid large chunks of the English language in your writing, do take that advice with a large grain of salt. (Sorry, Daedalus.) Writers should never limit themselves. Besides, many of these 'rules' have filtered down from specific styles of writing and do not apply to all writing across the board. For instance, the BBC have wonderful articles about words to avoid when writing, but they're talking about journalism, which is not remotely the same things as creative writing. Just something to think about.
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Old 11-23-2008, 06:48 AM
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One wouldn't say "wearily," he climbed the stairs, Queen, because this is telling. You'd show him slowly (yes, an adverb!) climbing the stairs in a weary manner.

Raymond Carver (perhaps the greatest short story writer of our time) said that adverbs were the mark of a lazy writer. After all, just take a look at this sentence I read recently in a short story: "I tip-toed slowly across the room". Can you tip-toe fastly? The modifying adverb in this sentence does absolutely (yay, another adverb!) nothing for the sentence. It doesn't make it better, it doesn't add anything that the reader doesn't already know. No, what it does is use a word for no reason whatsoever. Just like dialogue tags, adverbs should be used sparingly (woohoo!). Find a stronger way to convey your message without needing to say: Fastly, slowly, appreciatingly, correctly. Not only is it telling, but it gets monotonous really (yay!) fast.
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Old 11-23-2008, 07:36 AM
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Okay, so here's my issue popping up right in front of me: I've been told by some people to avoid adverbs, while others tell me they're fine if used in moderation. I guess I just feel I can't express to my readers exactly what I want them to see, feel, or understand without outright telling them. I searched through my story until I found a paragraph in which I used several adverbs. I don't really use many more than this in a paragraph (as I discovered after searching through the text--I thought I used them more often than I do), but there's enough here to make me wonder if this paragraph seems boring or lazy, as Daedalus put it.

Schuyler’s face was alight with both surprise and sadness as she placed the paper gingerly back down upon the coffee table. Sasha’s gaze was turned away, facing a painting on the wall which could hardly be seen in the dim light emanating from the television. Her violet eyes reflected the images of the screen, distorted though they were, and in a cautious motion she made to reach an arm around Sasha’s shoulders, pulling her to her side. Sasha at first resisted the gesture, as was typical for her, but must finally have decided Schuyler meant well, and allowed herself the comfort of laying her head against the older woman’s chest. Schuyler’s voice issued softly through the room.

I was going to bold the adverbs and what not, but decided not to. I guess I'm just asking for someone to read that and determine whether they become overly noticeable--and perhaps suggest ways this paragraph could be re-written if they do. I've tried writing more to allow the reader to gather for themselves what the character is feeling or doing, but I really don't see any other way to say a 'voice issued softly.' So I'm open to help there =\
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Old 11-23-2008, 07:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Daedelus
Can you tip-toe fastly?
Actually, yes. I just tried it. But tip-toeing does usually imply slow and careful, not quick and with reckless abandon

Adverbs and adjectives are good things. You need them. The trick is to discern where you need them. Having an adverb in every other sentence is bad. Having one or two lurking around your paragraphs once in a while is nothing bad. While I concede that you can do away with most adverbs assuming you're sufficiently creative, sometimes readers would rather see a "merrily crackling fire" rather than a "fire crackling with merriness". It's so much easier to read an adverb in some places. I'll edit an adverb here and there, but for the most part I leave them to sit happily in place and do their bit in the mosaic of words.

Adverbs are like ciggarettes and booze. One or two tastes good (Or so smokers say ). Twenty will kill you (Or at a minimum, leave you with a hacking cough and a hangover for a good while)


EDIT: You posted while I was typing, Rubix, so here's what I think of the paragraph. Not bad at all. I didn't get any sense of awkwardness (adverb-wise, that is) or notice the adverbs overmuch. The one thing I did chuckle at, though, was that I have a friend named Schuyler. He's male. I wasn't aware it was a unisex name before this

As to "a voice issued softly", I'd rewrite that bit. There is some general awkwardness throughout the paragraph, and that's one of them. I'd say "Schuyler spoke softly", assuming there'll be some dialogue following.
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Old 11-23-2008, 08:17 AM
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Originally Posted by Daedalus View Post
One wouldn't say "wearily," he climbed the stairs, Queen, because this is telling. You'd show him slowly (yes, an adverb!) climbing the stairs in a weary manner.

Once again you have fallen into the trap of believing in Rules. There is nothing wrong with telling a story. Not every scene has to be an immediate scene showing the action.

Most of these !*&$£ rules limit the writer and hog-tie him so that he's so worried about breaking one that he can't write. There are plenty of people who will disagree with me, and they're welcome to do that, but a confident writer doesn't need a list of rules to tell him or her how to do it. In fact, most of these Rules should be called guidelines, and even then they should be taken with a large dose of salt.


Schuyler’s face was alight with both not needed surprise and sadness as she placed the paper gingerly back down upon the coffee table. Sasha’s gaze was turned away, facing a painting on the wall which could hardly be seen in the dim light emanating from the television. Her violet eyes reflected the images of the screen,distorted though they were, and in a cautious motion she made to reached an arm around Sasha’s shoulders, pulling her to her side. Sasha at first resisted the gesture, as was typical for her,but must finally have decided Schuyler meant well, and allowed herself the comfort of laying her head against the older woman’s chest. Schuyler’s voice issued softly through the room.
My problem with the above was that I was confused about who was doing what. Her violet eyes presumably refers to Schuyler, but since Sasha was the last named character, I took her to mean Sasha. So it seemed odd that her eyes reflected the telly when she was looking at a picture. It was only after reading it twice that I worked out the violet eyes belonged to Schuyler. Whenever you use a pronoun, be careful that the reader can clearly identify which woman you're refering to. You may need to name the actual character again to avoid confusion.

Also, the bit about Sasha resisting at first is out-of-place telling in an otherwise immediate scene. Schuyler seems to be the focus of the paragraph, but suddenly you are taking us into Sasha's thoughts. I believe that is head-hopping, and not a good thing. (Someone will correct me if I am wrong. )

Personally, I didn't have a problem with adverbs or adjectives in the above passage. Just keep it clear who is doing what, watch out for telling in immediate scenes, and beware using too many auxiliary verbs. (ie as she made to reach an arm...).

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Old 11-23-2008, 10:38 AM
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Thanks very much to everyone. I'll try to take some of your advice in the future. As for the part about the violet eyes--it's a recurring theme, if you will, throughout the whole story. If you had read the rest of the book you would have known they were Schuyler's eyes =P
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Old 11-23-2008, 11:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Winterbite View Post
Adverbs and adjectives are good things. You need them. The trick is to discern where you need them.
Lazy writers use them to prop up lazy writing. The trick is to discern how and where you can dispense with them.
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Old 11-23-2008, 11:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Q Wands
Once again you have fallen into the trap of believing in Rules. There is nothing wrong with telling a story. Not every scene has to be an immediate scene showing the action.

Most of these !*&$£ rules limit the writer and hog-tie him so that he's so worried about breaking one that he can't write. There are plenty of people who will disagree with me, and they're welcome to do that, but a confident writer doesn't need a list of rules to tell him or her how to do it. In fact, most of these Rules should be called guidelines, and even then they should be taken with a large dose of salt.
It's not a rule, it's a style issue. Adjectives and adverbs in every sentence is considered by many authors to be weak writing. With adverbs you can nearly always omit them and use a stronger, more vivid sentence. Take, for example, this sentence:

Jack crept quietly across the large room.

Firstly, "quietly" doesn't add a single thing to the sentence here. Nothing. The word "crept" implies that all on its own. No need for any other adverb whatsoever. Now we come to the adjective. "Large" is not an exact measurement, is it? A house is large compared to a tent. A mansion is large compared to a house. A castle is large compared to a mansion ... ad infinitum. In this case the adjective hasn't shed any light on how large "large" is. So, you have to ask yourself, what real purpose does it have in the sentence?
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Old 11-23-2008, 11:18 AM
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Originally Posted by Daedalus View Post
So, you have to ask yourself, what real purpose does it have in the sentence?
None. Adjectives are just as much a lazy prop as adverbs.
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Old 11-23-2008, 11:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Daedalus View Post
It's not a rule, it's a style issue. Adjectives and adverbs in every sentence is considered by many authors to be weak writing. With adverbs you can nearly always omit them and use a stronger, more vivid sentence. Take, for example, this sentence:

Jack crept quietly across the large room.

Firstly, "quietly" doesn't add a single thing to the sentence here. Nothing. The word "crept" implies that all on its own. No need for any other adverb whatsoever. Now we come to the adjective. "Large" is not an exact measurement, is it? A house is large compared to a tent. A mansion is large compared to a house. A castle is large compared to a mansion ... ad infinitum. In this case the adjective hasn't shed any light on how large "large" is. So, you have to ask yourself, what real purpose does it have in the sentence?
Making examples of bad sentences doesn't prove much. And I would not advocate using adjectives, or adverbs, in every sentence, either. I just wouldn't excise a huge portion of my vocabulary on the say-so of anyone.

As for it being a style issue, style is a personal thing. But telling people to cut out every adjective and adverb is dictating to people how they can write, and I don't think anyone has the right to dictate to another writer about what their style can be.
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Old 11-23-2008, 11:58 AM
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I'd hate to read a book with no adjectives. How would you know what anything looked like? Is the forest dark? Are the aliens green and slimy? The only things you could picture would be those that you were familiar with. I'm going to keep using adjectives and adverbs. Like QoW, I think it's a style issue. Everyone uses words differently. If people want to write bare-bones style, with nothing but nouns, verbs, articles, etc., that's fine with me. If somebody wants to write a lyrical sort of piece with metaphors, similies, and two adjectives in every sentence, I'm good with that too. Each way can be equally interesting. But if everybody wrote the same way, limiting the words they can use, there'd be little room for originality.
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Old 11-23-2008, 12:03 PM
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Originally Posted by Daedalus View Post
Jack crept quietly across the large room.
While "large" is a bit dull here, it's not useless. It could tell us how he feels about the room. After all, he's creeping. It stands to reason that he'd feel more nervous and exposed in a "large" room than a small one. Creeping across a cozy room is just not the same!

Think about when you were young and got in trouble at school. Remember how enormous the hallway felt as you walked to the principal's office? How unnaturally quiet? The very same hallway felt comfortable when it was filled with kids and you weren't in trouble.

Jack crept across the large room.
Jack crept across the cavernous room.
Jack crept quietly across the vast room.

I apply a diagnostic test to my adverbs and adjectives. I ask myself: Are they redundant (like "crept quietly")? Could they be replaced with stronger verbs? Would replacing them sound wierd or call attention to itself? I tend to keep the ones that add something.

It's rather silly to declare that one part of speech shouldn't be used at all. That's like telling a singer that minor keys shouldn't be used, or for-goodness-sake-whatever-you-do don't use an E flat! We have the whole language.

Ultimately, it is a matter of style and taste. Lazy writers may use adverbs poorly, but that doesn't mean good writers can't use them at all.
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Old 11-23-2008, 12:21 PM
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Indeed, choosing other words to replace both adverbs and adjectives (assuming you're not choosing to eradicate them entirely) is the reason I have a thesaurus sitting next to my bed as we speak. I am constantly using a thesaurus, not to make my writing sound more sophisticated (because it usually just makes one sound strange), but to find the exact word I want to use to describe what's happening in the sentence. I don't think I'm capable of pulling adjectives from my stories--I rely on them to show the reader what's happening. Adverbs, however, I could do without, but my recurrent style of writing seems to include them. As some others have said, it just seems like a story without adverbs or adjectives would be very dull and dry.

Following some of you folks' advice, however, I've been working on revising some of my chapters, so I do appreciate all of your assistance =]
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Old 11-23-2008, 12:57 PM
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Darn! I've come too late to the adverb party. Ah, well.

I've recently taken a good amount of adverbs from the novel I'm working on and have found my writing tighten and strengthen through the use of strong verbs as their replacements (go figure, eh?). However, I've found that in using these strong verbs makes for an "in your face" feel to everything, and sometimes things need a softer touch. That's not to say adverbs should be used to excess; that would be lazy writing.

What I usually do is remove the weak verb/adverb (particularly in a dialogue tag) and see if the meaning/feeling stands on its own. If it doesn't, I try a strong verb in its place. If it's too hard-hitting, I revert back to the original. Needless to say, I have very few adverbs in my work and the ones I do use are usually there for a reason. They pack more punch if used sparingly. (<-- Ha!)

Anyway . . . I'm late to this party, so feel free to ignore me.
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Old 11-23-2008, 01:02 PM
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Originally Posted by Q Wands View Post
Making examples of bad sentences doesn't prove much. And I would not advocate using adjectives, or adverbs, in every sentence, either. I just wouldn't excise a huge portion of my vocabulary on the say-so of anyone.

As for it being a style issue, style is a personal thing. But telling people to cut out every adjective and adverb is dictating to people how they can write, and I don't think anyone has the right to dictate to another writer about what their style can be.
I didn't mean you to literally cut every single adverb and adjective out, Queen. Crikey! I meant that you should, as Mike said, learn to discern where they work and where they're just used (to paraphrase Mike again) lazily to prop up lazy work. It's like a dialogue tag. You should let tone and diction indicate how a person speaks a sentence without needing to resort to: "He said lovingly," "she said caringly". They can be avoided, just like an adverb can.

It's like: The felicitous cow stood in the pasture.

What? This just draws unnecessary attention to your prose. What's a felicitous cow? A cow is a cow, whether you stand it in a pasture or put a gown on it and stand it in the street. Adjectives and adverbs, used wrongly, add un-needed fluff to your sentences. After awhile, it starts to distract from the actual writing. If you read a short story loaded with adjectives and adverbs, you'll realise that half of it is just fluff.
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Old 11-23-2008, 04:35 PM
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A cow is a cow, whether you stand it in a pasture or put a gown on it and stand it in the street
Hahahahaha! Now that's a funny sight.
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Old 11-24-2008, 08:00 AM
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There's a very simple test to figure how much your writing relies on modifiers.

Get a piece of your writing, 1,000 words or so, and take them all out. Every last one, mercilessly. Then re-read it, deciding where the removal tightens the writing up, and where it leaves description lacking. Where it's the latter, decide if a stronger verb or a slight rewrite of a sentence will make it stronger without adding a modifier. Then, and only then, put back in such modifiers as you feel necessary.

Learning from experience always works better than asking other people for answers, and going through the above process will make you think much more carefully about your word choices.
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Old 11-24-2008, 09:37 AM
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Learning from experience always works better than asking other people for answers, and going through the above process will make you think much more carefully about your word choices.
Exactly.
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