Friday, February 29, 2008
Always, carefully use adverbs sparingly and cautiously.
I used to use adverbs more easily (there's another one!) before a certain editor came along and cleaned 'em up. In my first four published books, you'll find a lot more of them than in my later books.
First, a quick grammar reminder. Adverbs don't always end in ly. They tend to when they're modifying a verb. But adverbs can also modify an adjective--The new 2008 Corvette is a very fast car. Or they can modify another adverb--She moved quite painstakingly.
In all cases, they're needed a lot less than writers will tend to want to use them. The ly versions seem to especially stand out.
This "rule" really isn't all that hard. If you want to use an adverb in your draft, I encourage you first to rethink it. Can you find a more compelling verb to use rather than tacking on an adverb to a more common verb? If you can't, then use the adverb. But in editing, give it a second, even harder look. Is this absolutely the strongest way to write the sentence? Can you strengthen it by replacing the adverb?
Like head-hopping POV, too many adverbs can look like lazy writing.
Even though said editor mentioned above is no longer my editor, every time I consider an adverb I imagine her looking at it and growling. Now, she never growled if it was really needed. But I just wanted to make danged sure it was, or she'd flag it.
Looking back at adverbs in my earlier books, I now see hardly a one of them is needed. Here are a few sentences:
Now, cruising quietly through the night, I still found it illogical.
The scene is about the character by herself, at night. No need for quietly. And without it, the rhythm of the sentence improves.
I smiled at him briefly. Slowly he smiled back.
Agh, two in a row! I might keep the second one here. The male character is shy in her presence, and the adverb does help show his reticence. But am I properly showing his reticence in other ways? My guess is, on the final edit, I'd nix the adverb and strengthen the sentence another way if necessary.
I gazed at her, fervently wishing my answer could be yes.
Nope. Nix it. You might argue that fervently wishing is more than just so-so wishing. But the context of the scene shows that everything the character is thinking and saying is fervent. And that is the key to the "rule" of being cautious with the use of adverbs. We can too easily believe that sticking one or two of them in a paragraph is enough to heighten the emotion, and therefore not use enough action beats, body language, vocal inflection, crackling dialogue, etc. Write your paragraph using those well, and the need for adverbs is negated most of the time.
Read Part 4
Posted by ~ Brandilyn Collins at 6:00 AM