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  #1  
Old 06-18-2009, 04:38 PM
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I just read a really tiresome post here on advice and figured it's always good to further confuse any given issue.

The thing about writing advice is: there's a lot of it around, way more than anybody asked for, but why should anybody listen to it?

Why should people listen to somebody with no record or writing acheivement sound off on what to do or not to do? Do you take golf advice from somebody just learning the game? Do you take financial advice from high school kids? Marital advice from newlyweds or bachelors?

And yet all these "tips" just keep slathering out of the internet.

Are there not "rules of thumb" for evaluating them?

If so, let's hear them.

Here's mine to start off with: any advice that seeks to restrict the use of words, devices, expression, suffixes, prefixes or other parts of speech is bullshit. For the thousandth time, you don't tell writers not to use certain words any more than you tell painters to avoid certain hues or musicians to avoid certain notes.

Here's another one I think can stand about any test of experience or logic: the ultimate test is successfully published work. If somebody says not to use adverbs or words that end in "ing" or voice over narration or passive voice, check it out. Look at real life books. Look at books that sell well, books that are highly praised...perhaps most tellingly, books that you yourself like to read. If you see adverbs there (and you mostly absofuckinglutely will) then tell the anti-adverb morons to piss off. Same with anything else: test advice against reality. That's what you do with all otherr advice, isn't it? Check it out where the rubber meets the road?

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Old 06-18-2009, 05:26 PM
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Hey, Stephen King wrote a book which was more-or-less anti-adverbs and little else, and he's phenomenally successful!

Lin's right though kids. The only advice you should really follow religiously is technical advice, such as how to spell 'definately' correctly or grammatical stuff. And stuff like 'less and fewer,' so you don't look like a moron when you write. Even grammar can be bent to serve your purposes. Any other advice, such as 'Characterisation is the most important thing in writing' or 'Never start a sentence with the word "because"' is just useless toss. There's a place for everything if you know how to use it properly.

I was fortunate enough to win a nationwide playwriting competition with the first play I ever wrote. I had never read a scrap of advice on playwriting, and indeed had to find an old Shakespeare to see how plays were laid out. Why did I win? Because the idea was different and funny the dialogue was smooth and natural (if I don't say so myself). It wasn't because I followed some bogus wanker's How To Pump Out Cliched Shit book on scriptwriting.

My advice is to be very, very careful what advice to listen to.
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Old 06-18-2009, 06:36 PM
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Hey, Stephen King wrote a book which was more-or-less anti-adverbs and little else, and he's phenomenally successful!
That's so funny! I'm actually about halfway through that book right now, and I just read a part where he's talking about how he hates the use of passive verbs. Lol.

I try to take advice just as that--advice. There are certain people's opinion that I tend to take more to heart than others, but I try to consider all points of view (and then choose my own )

There are certain rules that I, personally, am a stickler to, though.
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Old 06-18-2009, 07:28 PM
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I mostly agree with Lin. Writers should be entitled to do write how they want and when they want to. My only advice is that if it's good and it sounds right then it's a masterpeice.
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Old 06-18-2009, 07:41 PM
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Hey, Stephen King wrote a book which was more-or-less anti-adverbs and little else, and he's phenomenally successful!
Next time you see one of his books, do an adverb scan. :-) I just scanned the first chapter of Duma Key online and he uses "barely" about five times. There are adverbs for a reason.

But what's important is: do you want to write like Stephen King? Or yourself?

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Old 06-18-2009, 08:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Lin View Post
I just read a really tiresome post here on advice and figured it's always good to further confuse any given issue.

The thing about writing advice is: there's a lot of it around, way more than anybody asked for, but why should anybody listen to it?

Why should people listen to somebody with no record or writing acheivement sound off on what to do or not to do? Do you take golf advice from somebody just learning the game? Do you take financial advice from high school kids? Marital advice from newlyweds or bachelors?

And yet all these "tips" just keep slathering out of the internet.

Are there not "rules of thumb" for evaluating them?

If so, let's hear them.

Here's mine to start off with: any advice that seeks to restrict the use of words, devices, expression, suffixes, prefixes or other parts of speech is bullshit. For the thousandth time, you don't tell writers not to use certain words any more than you tell painters to avoid certain hues or musicians to avoid certain notes.

Here's another one I think can stand about any test of experience or logic: the ultimate test is successfully published work. If somebody says not to use adverbs or words that end in "ing" or voice over narration or passive voice, check it out. Look at real life books. Look at books that sell well, books that are highly praised...perhaps most tellingly, books that you yourself like to read. If you see adverbs there (and you mostly absofuckinglutely will) then tell the anti-adverb morons to piss off. Same with anything else: test advice against reality. That's what you do with all otherr advice, isn't it? Check it out where the rubber meets the road?
The tips you are saying are just off the internet are from writes like King and books like The Elemnets of Style. And while they are just suggestions as those books will tell you.

What makes your advice not to take them as anything other than "bullshit" any better? You're just someone on the internet too. Don't think your any more special than the people writing those advice blogs.
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Old 06-18-2009, 08:18 PM
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Easy for you to say. Well, apparently not all that easy from the looks of it. Fortunately there are edit buttons for posts. Not as easy for snarled-up heads.

"If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don't listen to writers talking about writing or themselves." Lillian Hellman
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Old 06-18-2009, 09:53 PM
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There's good advice and bad. It's easy to tell the good stuff; if it comes from me, it's solid gold.

It's worth remembering, though, that virtually all the great novels that people will still be reading 100, 200 years from now were written before the computer and the how-to manual.
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Old 06-19-2009, 12:11 AM
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Originally Posted by Mike C View Post
There's good advice and bad. It's easy to tell the good stuff; if it comes from me, it's solid gold.

It's worth remembering, though, that virtually all the great novels that people will still be reading 100, 200 years from now were written before the computer and the how-to manual.
Eh but that doesn't mean those books are better than the things being written now.

Let's be honest there are some great old works. Frankenstein is one I fell in love with. But there are some out there that every English class makes students read that just aren't that well written and they are more culturally relevant than literally in some ways.

Beowulf strikes me as that type and while there is some good symbolism and you can go on and on about some of the subjects in the book, its not a very fun read. Or at least I don't know anyone who found it to be.

Sadly, its better than the recent movie.
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Old 06-19-2009, 01:22 AM
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You're not actually reading Beowulf the 'old' version unless you can perfectly understand Old English.
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Old 06-19-2009, 01:25 AM
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Lin - You and I are definitely* singing from the same hymn sheet. Grammar is grammar and writers should have more than a passing familiarity with it, but rules about how to write well are generally nonsense. True, styles change with the years, but that's not to say that there should ever be one accepted style that writers must follow. How dull my bookshelves would seem if all those authors had followed advice such as: keep sentences short, don't use adverbs and adjectives if you don't have to, don't start sentences with the present participle, etcetera, ad nauseum!

* Hey, Pete: that should be definitely.
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Old 06-19-2009, 01:26 AM
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"Absofuckingutely" had got to be both the most hideous and hilarious adverb I've ever seen.

People need to view advice with common sense and then use what works for them. If they don't agree, they don't agree. If they do, they do. Even with writing reference books. I've often questioned and disagreed with some things I've read in reference books, and these are most often from people who do have writing achievements and writing track records.
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Old 06-19-2009, 01:29 AM
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And yeah... you know, nowadays it's good to be original, start something different - but don't deviate too much. You have to know the rules before you can break them; and when you do start to, you need to know how to break the rules.
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Old 06-19-2009, 02:37 AM
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Aw come on QWands, give me more credit than that! That's why I put it in inverted commas. Definately and independant are my pet hates, namely because independant tends to accompany claims of intelligence (eg "I am intelligent and independant"). The irony is lost on them.

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Old 06-19-2009, 02:45 AM
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Sorry, Pete! I didn't catch the thing with the inverted commas, but I really should have known better. Will you accept my apologies? *grovels awkwardly on her bruised knees*
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Old 06-19-2009, 04:28 AM
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Originally Posted by Fame<Infamy View Post
What makes your advice not to take them as anything other than "bullshit" any better? You're just someone on the internet too. Don't think your any more special than the people writing those advice blogs.
Good point.

Lin read the article and decided for himself it didn't sit well with him. Which is the whole point of advice: take it or leave it - but at least hear/read it. But anyone who then goes onto say

you don't tell writers not to use certain words any more than you tell painters to avoid certain hues or musicians to avoid certain notes.

is doing just as much harm. People sould be allowed to make up their own minds (as Lin himself did) without someone putting up warning signs everywhere.

And if so many people on here seem to agree with Lin - why do you bother to have a reference section on here? We don't know the authors' writing history.
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Old 06-19-2009, 04:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Fame<Infamy View Post
Eh but that doesn't mean those books are better than the things being written now.
Absolutely not. There are books being written right now that will join the ranks of classics that will be read forever. I would venture, though, that they're generally the books where the writers didn't think about rules or 'how it should be done', but beat their own path. I'd cite Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being and McCarthy's The Road as two modern classics that will probably be on students reading lists 100 years from now because they broke rules, rather than observed them.

I made the observation about great books being written before the internet had nothing to do with age, as such, just an acknowledgement that people have been writing novels for around a thousand years; the internet has been around for a tiny fraction of that.

Originally Posted by Fame<Infamy View Post
But there are some out there that every English class makes students read that just aren't that well written and they are more culturally relevant than literally in some ways.
'just aren't well written' is a value judgement; you're relating outdated styles with modern. A 'classic' isn't necessarily a classic because of timeless prose, but timeless themes. Stories that transcend time and place; how many updates and retellings have there been of Shakespeare's works, for example? Good stories that resonate, that speak of the human condition. Melville's Moby Dick; personally I found it pretty dire prose-wise, with an opening chapter that almost made me lose the will to live, but the story stays relevant now and still will be in another 100 years.
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Old 06-19-2009, 04:47 AM
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Originally Posted by Mike C View Post
Absolutely not. There are books being written right now that will join the ranks of classics that will be read forever. I would venture, though, that they're generally the books where the writers didn't think about rules or 'how it should be done', but beat their own path. I'd cite Kundera's Unbearable Lightness of Being and McCarthy's The Road as two modern classics that will probably be on students reading lists 100 years from now because they broke rules, rather than observed them.



'just aren't well written' is a value judgement; you're relating outdated styles with modern. A 'classic' isn't necessarily a classic because of timeless prose, but timeless themes. Stories that transcend time and place; how many updates and retellings have there been of Shakespeare's works, for example? Good stories that resonate, that speak of the human condition. Melville's Moby Dick; personally I found it pretty dire prose-wise, with an opening chapter that almost made me lose the will to live, but the story stays relevant now and still will be in another 100 years.
I think themes are pretty much all timeless, what's that saying? There are only three real plots at the bottom of every story? I don't know how much I agree with it, even though there is some merit to it if you generalize enough.

When I write, there are themes I use that are passed along from writer's long since dead. These themes are our birthright as writers.

I don't like Shakespeare but I realize his contribution to the game. Star crossed lovers--weather reflecting emotions--lampshade hanging--I suppose that I get what you are saying.

But I think that while those themes are great and important and they tell us about our ancestors. We need to have more current novels in schools. I think when I was in school the most up to date thing I read was The Giver (great book) and the next most recent book was probably The Outsiders. I mean that's 40 (or so) years old at the time I read it...
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Old 06-19-2009, 04:51 AM
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Lin is completely, most assuredly, doubtlessly, and "absofuckingutely" correct in every single thing he's said in that post.

I'm a plumber by trade, and if you waltzed into a site and told me I couldn't use push-fit fittings instead of soldered ones, I'd tell you to go back to whatever cave you'd crawled out of. Words are tools. To say they can't be used is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

A few months back I posted a story on another writing forum with the line "Jack moved quietly down the hall". Now, when I wrote that line my intention was convey a picture of someone moving quietly down a hall. (And the medal for stating the obvious goes to . . .). But I received a critique that said I shouldn't have used the word "quietly" because it was an adverb. No, apparently I should have used a "stronger" verb like "tiptoed" or "crept". Well, see, here's the thing: "Tiptoeing" down the hall conveys secrecy. When you come home from the pub and don't want your wife to hear you, you tiptoe to the room. When you don't want to wake a person, you tiptoe past their room. "Creeping" conveys a picture of stealth. Covert agents creep. Intruders creep. Where's the verb for someone who wants to move down a hall not in a furtive or surreptitious way, but in a way that avoids the excessive baggage of secrecy or stealth?

And Lin is completely correct when he says that every book on the market today has adverbs in it. Go check. I will guarantee you right now that if you open any book on your bookshelf, you will encounter an adverb before you reach the end of the first chapter, probably even before the end of the first page.

Someone asked why you should take Lin's advice over the other person's? Well, here's why: Because, unlike the other person, Lin isn't telling you to avoid using words. Plus, he's a traditionally-published author. So, I'd listen to him a hell of a lot quicker than I would some wannabe writer who thinks making lists of "rules" makes them sound smart. It doesn't. It makes them sound elitist and ignorant.
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Old 06-19-2009, 05:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Daedalus View Post
Lin is completely, most assuredly, doubtlessly, and "absofuckingutely" correct in every single thing he's said in that post.

I'm a plumber by trade, and if you waltzed into a site and told me I couldn't use push-fit fittings instead of soldered ones, I'd tell you to go back to whatever cave you'd crawled out of. Words are tools. To say they can't be used is the dumbest thing I've ever heard.

A few months back I posted a story on another writing forum with the line "Jack moved quietly down the hall". Now, when I wrote that line my intention was convey a picture of someone moving quietly down a hall. (And the medal for stating the obvious goes to . . .). But I received a critique that said I shouldn't have used the word "quietly" because it was an adverb. No, apparently I should have used a "stronger" verb like "tiptoed" or "crept". Well, see, here's the thing: "Tiptoeing" down the hall conveys secrecy. When you come home from the pub and don't want your wife to hear you, you tiptoe to the room. When you don't want to wake a person, you tiptoe past their room. "Creeping" conveys a picture of stealth. Covert agents creep. Intruders creep. Where's the verb for someone who wants to move down a hall not in a furtive or surreptitious way, but in a way that avoids the excessive baggage of secrecy or stealth?

And Lin is completely correct when he says that every book on the market today has adverbs in it. Go check. I will guarantee you right now that if you open any book on your bookshelf, you will encounter an adverb before you reach the end of the first chapter, probably even before the end of the first page.

Someone asked why you should take Lin's advice over the other person's? Well, here's why: Because, unlike the other person, Lin isn't telling you to avoid using words. Plus, he's a traditionally-published author. So, I'd listen to him a hell of a lot quicker than I would some wannabe writer who thinks making lists of "rules" makes them sound smart. It doesn't. It makes them sound elitist and ignorant.
It doesn't work like that, just because you agree he's not right.

I'm not saying to take the advice or not, I'm saying to decide for yourself. There's no argument against that, so Lin has to basically be wrong.
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Old 06-19-2009, 05:22 AM
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But Lin hasn't told anyone to do anything, except question lists of so-called rules for writers. What he said was:

Originally Posted by Lin
test advice against reality.
Seems fair to me. As a firm believer in keeping one's options open and not restricting myself creatively, I have to say that for every piece of "advice" I've read, I've seen published examples that refute it.

By the way, Fame, you do realise that you don't have to quote the entire post, don't you? You can either delete unnecessary bits or just cut-and-paste to get what you want. Quoting entire posts just takes up space and makes it harder for old people like me to find the bit I'm supposed to read.
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Old 06-19-2009, 05:23 AM
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One last thought on advice: it's mostly a waste of time, but harmless.

Some people will write pure gold with or without advice. Others... if there was a magic elixir that, once drunk, would turn you into an instant sure-fire novelist, would have to be herded to the cups like sheep, made to drink it through aggressive use of sharpened sticks and would still pour it down their shirts or try to insert it in their ears.
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Old 06-19-2009, 05:31 AM
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Originally Posted by Fame<Infamy View Post
But I think that while those themes are great and important and they tell us about our ancestors.
Absolutely not. Those themes are great and important because they tell us about ourselves. Our ancestors are just us in funny clothes. Read De Maupassant's shorts and tell me those people aren't struggling with the same realities of life that we do. Read Voltaire's Candide and deny that it couldn't be a satire written now, rather than 250 years ago. Romeo and Juliet... gang warfare, the futility of hatred, doomed love... what more could you want?
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Old 06-19-2009, 05:32 AM
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Originally Posted by Q Wands View Post
But Lin hasn't told anyone to do anything, except question lists of so-called rules for writers. What he said was:
Sorry, I'm lazy and I haven't slept (its 8AM here,) usually I would break it off but I didn't think to.

And to comment on what you said, every piece of advice I have seen published, refutes itself. For instance, King in On Writing says "there are examples to refute any advice".

The thing is Lin's not saying anything these books and authors who write these things didn't already. But if you are hoping to get published, you might have to take some of this advice.

What I don't get is this, every other art form, has people giving advice and teaching, music, painting, movie making...

If I hadn't read stuff on pacing I wouldn't ever be able to put my finger on what was wrong with some of my passages and fix them.

And excuse me, but Lin is telling everyone some advice is bullshit (he tells you which advice too) because of its source which seems kind of like advice to me (from an internet source at that). Oh the irony.
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Old 06-19-2009, 05:36 AM
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Originally Posted by Q Wands View Post
Sorry, Pete! I didn't catch the thing with the inverted commas, but I really should have known better. Will you accept my apologies? *grovels awkwardly on her bruised knees*
Hmpf. I shall consider it. Your supplication pleases me.

While you're down there... look, I switched to this new anti-dandruff shampoo, and I'm not trying to say anything, but, you know, next time you're by the chemist...
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  #26  
Old 06-19-2009, 06:06 AM
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Ok, I really hate to ask this but... what's an adverb?

I swear I knew in elementary school but that's been awhile and none of my other teachers bothered keeping up with stuff like that.
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Old 06-19-2009, 06:10 AM
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Its a word the modifies another part of speech. Like slowly...basically any "ly" word you can think of.

He ran.

He ran slowly.

It's kind of like an adjective, accept I think the difference is that adjectives are words in and of themselves while adverbs are modified words. I can't remember I should really look this up.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adverb

For both of us lol.

Edit: Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns whereas Adverbs modify everything else, including adjectives.
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Old 06-19-2009, 06:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Fame<Infamy View Post
And to comment on what you said, every piece of advice I have seen published, refutes itself. For instance, King in On Writing says "there are examples to refute any advice".
I haven't read King's book (seems like I'm the only one sometimes!) but there is a saying that for every rule there is an exception. Same for writing, I guess.

Originally Posted by Fame<Infamy
What I don't get is this, every other art form, has people giving advice and teaching, music, painting, movie making...

If I hadn't read stuff on pacing I wouldn't ever be able to put my finger on what was wrong with some of my passages and fix them.
Advice is always useful when it applies to you but, when it comes as a generic code or list, I think a lot of us baulk. Why? Because these lists don't apply to everyone, but they can be touted as a one-size-fits-all solution for the masses.

Originally Posted by Fame<Infamy
And excuse me, but Lin is telling everyone some advice is bullshit (he tells you which advice too) because of its source which seems kind of like advice to me (from an internet source at that). Oh the irony.
Lin does have strong opinions, but we try to forgive him here because he also knows what he's talking about. (Most of the time anyway. )

Basically, everyone has to make their own choices, but some of us who've been around a while just hate to see newbies being inundated with 'advice' that isn't all it seems. I suppose we can come over a bit too heavy, but that just reflects the strength of our convictions.


Originally Posted by Nanny Ogg
And if so many people on here seem to agree with Lin - why do you bother to have a reference section on here? We don't know the authors' writing history.
The Reference Room has information on various aspects of writing. The bits on punctuation are less advice and more practical usage, but the articles on style are there to show various tools and techniques available. But no one is saying anywhere that everyone ought to write in a particular way. Originally, anyone could post in the Ref Room, which meant it was soon full of spurious rules and guidelines, so it was shut down. We re-opened it because we felt it was useful to have a place we could direct novice writers, a place where they could read about the proper use of commas for instance - largely because it gets tiresome to have to repeat explanations again and again. As for the credentials of the authors, you can check the user profiles and then decide for yourself whether you want to take their advice or not.


Originally Posted by PeteMalicki View Post

While you're down there...
You, sir, have just dropped in the awesome stakes.
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Old 06-19-2009, 06:34 AM
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It's kind of like an adjective, accept I think the difference is that adjectives are words in and of themselves while adverbs are modified words. I can't remember I should really look this up.
I can't think of a better illustration of the value of internet advice. And people rag me for insinutating that so much of it comes from wannabes who really don't have much idea what they're talking about.

The limit to "harmless", Mike is that disinformation, like good information and mindless promotion, is "viral". It spreads on its own. Newbies DEFINITELY get the idea that this malarky is for real and it stunts them, has them looking over their shoulders.

For myself, I don't much give a shit. Shockingly, I don't take much of this wise counsel to heart. But what I see is all these posts on writing sites asking things like "When is it permissible to use passive voice?" (Absolutewrite, last week)
Or "How many adverbs can you use per paragraph?" (MyWriters, this week)

And self-convicted no-nothings whose only experience is putting up a semi-literate blog perpetuate them, as we've seen here. And anybody who suggests that such worries are groundless is some sort of grumpy fascist.
So, no, not entirely harmless.
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Old 06-19-2009, 09:37 AM
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Originally Posted by Fame<Infamy View Post
Its a word the modifies another part of speech. Like slowly...basically any "ly" word you can think of.
No, not "basically any '-ly' word you can think of".

Anomaly, reply, friendly, lovely, smelly, lonely, elderly, ally, bodily, assembly, belly, bully, costly, dastardly, deadly, deathly, disorderly, family, ghastly, hourly, likely, measly, monopoly, melancholy, rarely, sprightly, steely, scaly, shapely, silly, sly, timely, unlikely, weekly, wobbly, yearly.

Should I keep going? Because there are more. Those words are adjectives. See what happens when you generalise words into a certain group and say you can't use them? Yeah, it's complete BS.
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