Monday, August 24, 2009

Editorial Tip of the Week: Laughing Heartily, Running Swiftly, and Other Adverbial Pitfalls

Ah, the adverb; one of the many things in life that can be so good, yet so wrong. "It's so useful!" you might protest, when looking over your latest piece of fiction. Of course it is. Tacking on "ly" conveniently does all the descriptive work for you. All your character, let's call him Bryce, needs to do is "wink seductively" and we know there's a hot make out scene coming. What does that really tell us about him (save his participation in one of the cheesiest facial expressions known to humankind)? Wouldn't it be more interesting if your description of Bryce's attempt to flag down a female was a little, well, quirky? What if he attempted a slow, exaggerated wink while fingering the rim of his whiskey glass? Now, he may still be a cheeseball, but at least he's got a signature drink! If Bond taught us anything, it's that every man hoping to exude any sort of appeal needs one of those. Maybe as he slides his finger along the rim of the glass he becomes so absorbed in gazing at his new, um, beloved, he tips the glass over onto his new pink shirt (Don't hate too much, his mother picked it out). Now you have intrigue and a little disaster for our protagonist. See how much we gained when we took out the adverb and tried to imagine a little more? Think what you, the writer, can do with that.

Since this is feeling a bit preachy, let's take a brief moment to visit our Chicago Manual of Style. Hold on while I grab it from its hallowed place of reverence.


"An adverb is a word that qualifies, limits, describes, or modifies a verb, an adjective or another adverb. An adverb may also qualify a preposition, conjunction, or a clause."

Now I know what you're thinking, and I admit it's true. The adverb can be quite helpful, but it can also be a swift push onto the slippery slope of telling instead of showing.

Finally, as the title of this week's post exemplifies, the adverb can also foster redundancy. You don't need to tell us your character is laughing heartily. Do you want to get across just how darn funny your character finds life? Envision something interesting and show, show, show! There are loads of embarrassing things people do on a day to day basis, don't let the adverb take away those moments from you!

Remember, just because JK Rowling uses it doesn't mean it's gold. Create an imaginary world filled with unforgettable characters that turns into a multi-million-dollar franchise and then come talk to me.

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