You Removed All the Adverbs? Really?

Adverbs get a bad rap.  I’ve heard several published authors and writing industry professionals say, “Avoid adverbs.  Cut them all out.”  And I’ve seen it in writing advice columns as well.  I don’t think it’s horrible advice.  In fact, I imagine it arose as a concrete suggestion for weeding out weak words.

“Get rid of weak words,” said every English teacher, agent, and editor anyone has ever had.

“What do you mean?” asked someone, somewhere.  And -ly words were an easy place to start.

So the expert explained, “Don’t write, ‘He walked quietly’ when you could write ‘He crept,’ ‘He sneaked,’ ‘He tiptoed.’  In short, get rid of that adverb ‘quietly.'”

Translation: bad adverb, bad!

That makes sense.  Frequently (heh), words ending in -ly are weak or sloppy.  They could be replaced by a strong verb or left out altogether.  “Cut out all the adverbs” is not a completely untenable way to start the pruning process.  But as a blanket statement, as a stick to beat the unwary, it annoys me.

First of all, the English teacher in me would like to point out that all adverbs do not end in   -ly.  “No,” “never,” and “not” are adverbs.  “Often,” “now” and “when” are adverbs.  “Where,” “here,” and “there” are adverbs.  A story without adverbs would be nonsensical.  Or a fascinating exercise in convoluted expression.  And nonsensical.  Fairy tales might also prove difficult since “happily,” “ever” and “after” are all . . . you guessed it.

Additionally, all words that end in -ly are not adverbs.  “Deadly,” for instance,  is an adjective.  He unsheathed the deadly sword.  He could unsheath it in a deadly way.  But he can’t unsheath it deadly-ly.  His deadly swordplay might result in your untimely demise. But you won’t have died untimely.  Prematurely, pointlessly, violently.  But not untimely.

So, cranky rant on “Why you shouldn’t say you removed all the adverbs from your book” over, my other point is that adverbs are beautiful.  Even the -ly ones.  And they do serve a purpose.  They are functional, necessary words, and I have used them abundantly here. No doubt there are several I could have left out, but most of them pull their weight.  They provide transitions or qualify a statement that is not an absolute.  They tell when or where or how.  They do all those things in fiction, too.  Plus one more.

But I’ll save that for another time.


Look! Show and Tell!

I got this from my friend Denise, who got it from her friend Tracey, who got it from her friend Debra, who  I found this on a blog, and it looked like fun.  It’s a meme called “Look” that’s making the rounds.  Here’s the gist: find “Look” in your current work-in-progress and paste the surrounding paragraphs into your blog. Then tag others to pass it on.

Here’s what I came up with, using the term “in-progress” loosely.  Very loosely.

“Okay, okay.  Oscar, stop.”  She got her feet under her and her hand back and tried to follow.  Except Oscar was like a ferret or something.  He raced down the stairs, his bare feet uncharacteristically quiet, and waited at the bottom hopping about and gesturing.  “Okay, okay,” she muttered again.  Her sleep-deprived mind couldn’t even process possibilities.  Something that needed a name?  Like a stray?

Look,” Oscar demanded, grabbing her hand again and pulling her the last five feet into the kitchen.  He pointed at the sliding glass door, and behind it, at what waited on the porch in the dim light of why-am-I-out-of-bed.

“What is that?”  An enormous shadow.  An enormous, pacing, shaggy shadow that could easily eat the deck furniture and maybe have room for a little brother.


Tag.  You’re it.

Denise tagged some of my other peeps, so I’m going to add Elizabeth GaucherErica Orloff, Gigi Amateau, Meg Medina, and Shann Palmer.

In Which I Am Snobby About Capitalization

The other day a friend posted a link to a blog that had something to say.  The blog was interesting, well-written, and had several cogent points that I wish had not already sunk to the bottom of my fishbowl of a brain.  However, despite having read it three or four times, the only thing I can remember about the blog post is the author’s non-standard use of capitalization.

After every period, he began each new sentence with a lowercase letter.  It distracted me, made me twitchy, and interfered with my ability to retain what I was reading.  Instead I found myself thinking, “Why did he choose to do that?  Is he too lazy to capitalize?  Is he writing on something like an iPad where shifting is a pain in the ass, and it’s faster just not to bother?  Is he making some sort of statement?  What sort of statement does not capitalizing the beginning of sentences make?  Is he trying to call attention to himself?  Does he feel strongly that a period is enough?  Why am I obsessing about this?”

I feel as though I should apologize to the author for being so hung up on form that I couldn’t get past it to the beauty and function of his essay.  I worry that this is a stick-in-the-mud type shortcoming, like judging someone on their clothes.  I worry that it says something about me, and that what it says isn’t good.

But I can’t help it. I have two English degrees and have taught language arts for over a decade.  I read incessantly.  In my head, there is a way things are supposed to be, and when writers choose to use non-standard forms it creates a barrier between me and their work.  Sometimes the barrier is temporary or flimsy.  Sometimes I can consciously set it aside and go on.  And sometimes my editor brain just will not shut up.

It’s my hang up, and I realize it may be a problem I will increasingly have to struggle with as more and more books are self-published to their authors’ specifications.  Maybe the entire publishing industry is less than a generation away from becoming a bubbling cauldron of standardless soup.  I’ve got to say, though, I hope not.

Standards make the author invisible and put the spotlight on the writing, the story, the characters.  Standards eliminate formatting distractions that eat away at the reader’s suspension of disbelief.  Standards make writing harder so that reading can be easier.

A post script in which I obsess about the capitalization in my title . . .

If I’m going to be snobby about capitalization, I thought, I should get the capitalization in the title right at least.  So, the rules I remembered from school required that I capitalize the first word, the last word, nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs and pronouns.  So, “In” is definitely capitalized. “I,” “Am,” “Snobby,” and “Capitalization.”  Check.

Huh.  What part of speech is “which”?  Adjective, describing the invisible noun “essay”? Pronoun, replacing “essay”?  Either of those would be capitalized.  As long as it’s not a preposition, I’m fine, right?

But “about” definitely is a preposition.  So it doesn’t get capitalized?  That just looks stupid. Maybe I should look up the rules.  Turns out, you can basically find a rule to support any sort of capitalizing you want to do with your title, including one where you can capitalize any word five or more letters long, which seems random.  But, hey, now at least it doesn’t look stupid.

She Taught Me Magic

Over on her blog Esse Diem, my friend Elizabeth Gaucher has a fun meme where you take a picture of yourself with a favorite book.  (Thank goodness the directions were “a” favorite book, or I would have been paralyzed with indecision.)  I chose Riddle-Master: the Complete Trilogy by Patricia McKillip.  

McKillip uses beautiful, lyrical language, and though I can’t say for certain that I have read more words penned by McKillip than by any other author (there’s all that Shakespeare and Louis L’Amour to take into account), it would be a close thing.  When I reread her books (because the first time I’m just enjoying the experience), I can see where some of my own style may have come from.  Certain ways of phrasing and grouping descriptions together tend to appeal to me, as well as the use of adverbs.  McKillip uses adverbs beautifully and unabashedly, even in dialogue tags.  (My love of adverbs and the industry’s bashing of them can wait for another post.)

I really didn’t need the copy of the book you see in my picture.  I already had the trilogy in three separate, much-loved, 1970s cover paperbacks.  But the two page “new introduction by the author” was worth the price.  In it McKillip waxes nostalgic about the impact Tolkien had on her young life (Hey, mine, too!) and on this trilogy in particular.  She is kind in remembering her younger writerly self and says, “She taught me magic, and the love of storytelling, which are two things that do not die unless you let them.”  That is what Patricia McKillip, and particularly The Riddle-Master Trilogy, taught me, too.