Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Card-Carrying Member of Adverbs Anonymous

Hello. My name is Janet L. Cannon and I’m an addict. Yes, I wholeheartedly admit I’m thoroughly and completely addicted to those lovely and lively adverbs. Those beautifully artful words that modify verbs to more carefully describe what’s excitingly happening in my novel.

Umm. Yeah. Seriously. Seriously? Yeah.

Adverb addiction has been an issue with speculative fiction writers since time immemorial, so I don’t feel TOO bad (badly?) about inheriting the disease from all the books I read as a child. It was the pulp culture of the time. But now it’s not.

But why? Why discriminate against a single, beautiful part of speech when there are other, more terrible offenses to complain about like misplaced modifiers and the difference among “their,” “they’re,” and “there”?

1. Well, for one thing, a single candy bar is a treat. An entire bag of mixed minis can make you sicker than a pig on a rollercoaster. Adverbs, used sparingly and correctly, can make your work sparkle. But too much bling can blind the reader and make your piece unreadable.

Consider the following:

She spun around, her hair flowing freely like a waterfall down her back.

Okay, so is there any OTHER way to spin other than “around”? Do waterfalls flow “freely” or in more of a downward motion (i.e. gravity works). You could remove BOTH adverbs and this sentence would work just as well, and in fact, work BETTER.

2. Second, overusing adverbs (and adjectives, too), shows you are a weak writer. Yep. I said it. Flowery words are a subconscious way to try to hide the fact that your nouns and verbs--the foundation of your work--aren’t strong enough to support your piece.

How about this:

He talked softly.

She walked quickly.

Why not say, “He whispered,” and “She ran”? Use stronger nouns, ladies and gentlemen! Don’t hide behind adverbs to try to make your point!

3. Another horrible truth: often, adverbs either a. don’t tell you anything you didn’t know anyway or b. don’t describe what you mean. This means they are sometimes USELESS. POINTLESS.
For example:

She looked grimly at the murderer. (What does grimly look like?)

Anxiously pacing, the boy waited for his mother. (Umm, if he’s pacing, he’s anxious.)

Before you get your panties in a wad, don’t think I’m proclaiming a ban on all adverbs. That would be like telling women they could never eat chocolate again. Or football fans that buffalo wings can only be eaten during the off season.

Use them sparingly. Use them correctly.

With great power comes great responsibility. And sometimes that responsibility is to comfort the grammar nazis in your life. Do you know how to do it?

You say, “Their, they’re, there!”

End sermon.

If you'd like to read a more detailed version about adverbaholicism, try this article:


Next week’s main course on Revision is a Dish Best Served Cold: 
Quizzle Me This: Defining You in Five Questions. Really?

On the menu for the future: an interview with Margot Dill (Editor 911) about her new book 
Caught Between Two Curses 
and Why is Revising so hard?

Also look for my articles on Walrus Publishing’s website. 

Like Ghost Stories? I’m published in Rocking Horse Publishing’s Spirits of St. Louis: Missouri Ghost Stories. Check it out!