Monday, June 28, 2010

Editorial Tip of the Week: Adverbially Speaking

Using adverbs can be so satisfying. You're typing away and arrive at a crucial point. It is imperative that you make your reader understand the importance of the given thought, opinion, or description. Underlining is out of the question and you're certainly not going to utilize the caps lock. Maybe, that only makes the text look weak and unsure of itself. This point is too strong to be slanted and light.

And so you write something like, "It was completely and utterly ridiculous." Of course, "ridiculous" does a fine job of connoting not much of anything on its own, but that's a different editorial tip. What makes this sentence all the more useless are its adverbs. They add clutter, and what's worse, they make for a sense of empty passion. Of adverbs, literary critic Pat Holt writes, "These words promise emphasis, but too often they do the reverse. The suck the meaning out of every sentence."

Adverbs often accompany anger or frustration. That's why you can get away with them in conversation. If you're telling a story about something "completely and utterly ridiculous," the adverbs, though still empty, will tell your listener that you really, really mean it. Adverbs have a certain therapeutic quality, your sanity may feel dependent on them like a solid smack into a pillow or punching bag.

Try to approach your writing with more composure. Or, put all the adverbs in the first draft and when you're feeling more zen, delete them all. You will find that the passion you wish to convey will come across much stronger without the adverbial additions. Until there's some kind of universally understood typeface language that captures every mood, we'll have to settle for firm conciseness.

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