Monday, September 7, 2009

Lemonade Sipping Adverbs

One of the first things I learnt about writing was how to pack the suitcase of every adverb I had met, tell them our relationship was over, they were not the clever words I thought they would be, and give them a first class flight to the land of Anywhere- Other-Than-My- Manuscript. Oh, they look pretty, batting their eyelashes so your don't comprehend the devastation that the "ly" hanging off their butts can bring. 

Good sentences become clumped with empty, fat words lazying on sun decks, flat on their backs,  sipping lemonade no less, while squeezing out all the other words that would work hard to create mood, paint pictures and become an original voice. In short, we start writing things like, "she yelled loudly."  Do people yell any other way? Worker ant verbs like smash, clomp and splatter used in earlier sentences might have shown the reader that She ain't happy... 

I don't think there is writer anywhere who can afford to let there words become a  six course meal of mashed potatoes served up in fast food boxes rather than a delicious extravaganza of flavour served on the best silverware we have to offer. 

I am thus  ignoring knee- bended groveling and blatant pleading from adverbs that sounds a lot like, "Your readers will never understand the angst in that sentence you just wrote if you don't use me! What kind of a writer are you?  I am the word Menacingly after all!" 
I have heard similar sobs stories from the words quickly, clearlysurely and finally. 
And frankly  I now skip the tearful goodbyes and dump those bad boys on the street. That's right. I don't even drive 'em to the airport. 

Yeah...I am editing. Can you tell?

But I cannot say it better than the master, Stephen King:

"I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout if from the roof tops. To put it another way, they are like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn it looks pretty and unique, if you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day... fifty the day after that...and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but then it's - GASP!!-  too late."

Ah yes.... said by the man who also wrote "... for all have sinned and fallen short of editorial perfection."

I fall short Stephen, how I fall short. 
But thanks to a few wonderful editors, the input of talented writers and some diligent trawling through every piece of advise on writing I can legally download, google, beg, borrow or buy I am learning to spot those lounge dwelling, overinflated, lemonade sipping adverbs before they invite their friends over. 

What about you? Do you have to constantly work at weeding you garden? What's the best advise you ever got on editing your writing? 

Disclaimer: No adverbs were hurt in the making of this blog post.... okay, I lie. I hurt plenty of them... and I don't care. A lucky few made it to the airport...


  1. Hi Tab,
    This post was a delight to read. I often speak on this very topic. I think those pesky adverbs have a way of poking their noses in all the time because we're taught to be 'descriptive' from our earliest school days. I've trained myself to regard them with flashing danger signs too.
    My normal computer has crashed recently. I've just downloaded all the emails I missed & received your questions. They're great questions and I'll get to work on them. When my new computer arrives I'll email them to you. Maybe it's a good thing that won't be for a few days, so I have time to really think of some good answers.

  2. I don't get a chance to weed much. I write very "to the point" most of the time. Which is also a pain when you aim for a higher word count. Of course, there is always space for editing. Always. But the adverbs themselves don't give me much trouble.

  3. Oh for sure!! I send most adverbs packing too! Strong verbs are FUN to find and write. But at the risk of being too brutal, I do let a few adverbs stay for lunch every once in a while. I think it's a matter of knowing when to send them packing or when it's okay to let them stay!

  4. What a fun post! I love your writing. I find that my first drafts have less and less adverbs in them. I'm slowly (oops) learning to write better the first time.

    However, during the editing process, I'm pretty relentless with cutting them. :)

  5. I love the post, and I mostly agree with what you say, but I have a confession to make. I have actually used adverbs with malice aforethought. Like in the last sentence, for example. I agree they need to be stamped down, but there are rare times when one adverb can do the work of ten other words.

    If I write, "The body slowly turned in the breeze," then short of providing an estimated angular velocity it's hard to see how to replace slowly. Nor does the pace of a situation like a body discovery allow you to stop for a ten or twenty word description that does the same job.

    The zero tolerance adverb policy is there because adverbs are like heroin for writers.

  6. Ooh, what a delightful post, Tabitha. I just love your writing and can't wait to read your memoir. I try to root out the adverbs, but agree with Gary. Sometimes they have to stay cause there's no other word that will work better.

  7. Oh this is adorable! :-) Yes, I have to do plenty of weeding. NOt with adverbs, but with funky sentences and the word "it". LOL

  8. I heart Stephen king with my whole, celebrity worship, mind and body. Staklishly. Speaking of which, I am a fan of the MADE UP adverb.. adjectives,and words altogether. If my work ever does get published, I will have to fight it out with some editor about using made up words.

  9. I have found that this seems to be a rule for newbies. Most new books I read from famous authors are filled with adverbs. It doesn't bother me at all and I suppose they have earned the right to use them. Yes, they can be overused, but I don't think we need to banish them forever. :)

  10. No! Not finally, quickly, and completely! Oh, the horror!

    Looks like more editing is before me. :0)

  11. i would have to say learning about lys was the first think i learned about writing too (that is, after English classes in college). writing for fiction seems to be an entirely different monster.

    great post. i'm going to kick 'em to the curb in my editing, too. probably. :)

    Where Romance Meets Therapy

  12. You're writing is so amazingly, beautifully, wonderfully, inspiring. I laughed loudly at the thought of filling a suitcase with the unwanted dandelions. I must go weed my garden now... ;)

  13. I'm so guilty of using adverbs. I just write whatever comes out, but then I go back and take them out when editing. You may have noticed I don't edit my blog posts or my comments because they are packed with adverbs!

  14. I was lucky to read Stephen King's ON WRITING before I ever tried to write a book, so I knew from the very beginning that I needed to steer clear of adverbs. It is tempting to throw one in every now and then though :)

  15. This made me smile. Poor little adverbs, getting murdered all over the place. I have to yank these buggers out too in editing. I find them more in my YA than my romance, but I think that's because my teen voice loves adverbs. What is a teen's life without "totally" and "seriously"?

  16. Thanks Paula, can't wait for the interview.

    Lori, my writing is growing in this area. Adverbs are still something I tend to weed out, but other things give me more trouble now days :)

    Jody, yes lunch once in a while can be productive.

    Katie me too. First drafts are less skeletal than they used to be.

    Thanks Gary. So wise, so true. The key is knowing the difference. i like what you said about one good adverb doing the work of ten other words. I will be on the look out for that in my writing.

    Karen thank you and I agree.

    Jessica, I don't have a problem with the word 'it', but the word, 'I' seems to grow quite well in the soil of my writing. :)

    Suzanne, I love 'The King' too. And I can't wait until you are published so I can read those made up words. Here's hoping you win with the editor :)

    Sherrinda, to true.

  17. Fiction groupie, I know. I should perhaps apologies to the world of under twenties ;P

    Natalie, I am loving the book and think it is a must too.

    Lazy writer, I love your posts and never notice the little adverbs rearing their head :)

    T.Anne, LOL.

    Jeannie, :))

    Kristen, yes, the horror :)

  18. Late to the party, but want to say I loved that post--very original and non-adverby way to make a point!
    And to Gary--a huge smile for likening adverbs to heroin for writers. Ha! Indeed, they are the easy way out.

  19. Following over from FictionGroupie. Great post! Adverbs are on my revision to-do list...

    I would be interested in seeing a list and explanation of Australian slang. My brother is living in N.Z. and I have to stop and attempt to translate when we chat. Is the slang different between the two? I haven't a clue lol

  20. I love this post! I, too, used to enjoy a few adverbs, but I've learned to send them packing. Now I find myself chopping them before they hit the page. Well, most of the time. ;) But that's why we do revisions, right?

  21. Thank you fiction groupie and Abby. I have posted on slang today (Tuesday's post- I couldn't help myself- too fun! :)But sorry, NZ has slang all of its own.

  22. Thank you for the funny take on the evils of adverbs.