December 16th, 2009


Adverb . . . Shmadverb . . .

In my throes of editing, my head swims with all the do’s and don’ts. The do’s and don’ts come from everywhere. Some are standards I hold for myself (i.e. , no heaving bosoms or manly thrusts). Others I recall from past English teachers I revered (i.e., “Don’t end with a preposition . . .”). Some I have gathered from my reading or moving watching adventures (i.e., no masked scary guy walking after a running scantily clad female). And then there are the words I have gathered from writing classes and words from experienced writers.

One no-no that keeps chirping in my ear is this “Adverbs are like weeds, when you see one, rip it up.”* I see this foreboding warning in every book on writing. And I hear it in writing workshops. I get it . . . to some degree. I see the redundancy in: “He ran quickly.” Most people run fast, so to say the person ran quickly is . . . pointless. I see the difference in “He quickly closed the door.” And “He slammed the door.” Slammed is stronger. But what to do when I can’t think of a strong verb? Either because I don’t know one or I am too damn lazy. Don’t say, “Look something up in a thesaurus.” Duh! But the adverb sounds (we are going for sound when we write) better. If I had a penny for each second I spend staring at my blinking cursor trying to decide the pro’s and con’s of an adverb . . . I would be rich. Well, that’s not true. I move on the moment the quiet voice in my head says: “This word will get cut when you do edits. What’s the point?”

The voice usually pops in my head two seconds after I've left my computer in search of validation to keep an adverb in question. I fish through the countless books I have on my bookshelf. The second I drop my bait in the water I feel a tug. You know what I see? ADVERBS! Sometimes I see four or five on a page. I’m not saying it’s okay just because I find it in print. Let’s face, lots of things make it to print (i.e., pictures of hairy men in a Speedos or dogs in sweaters) that should be banned. But writers, whom I envy, use adverbs with glee and ease. So what gives? I agree adverbs should be used sparingly. Oh look at that . . . 

So when you edit, what writing lesson trips you up?

*A paraphrase from Stephen King’s, On Writing.
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