Friday, September 14, 2012

-ly

You all know what I'm about to talk about! Those pesky little things we call adverbs! Let's start with a definition:

Ad•verb (ˈadˌvərb): Noun. A word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a phrase, expressing a relation of place, time.

Your writing quality will increase ten-fold if you learn to cut out as many adverbs as possible. Why? Because you don't need them to get a point across if you do the job of setting the scene the way you should. I have a few exceptions I'll discuss after I give some examples of adverb removal.

Let's start with an example of a block of text with adverbs intact:

Sarah tugged on Mark's shirt roughly. "Mark! Look! What is that?" she whispered softly. Her hands dropped off his shoulders quickly and she stuffed them unceremoniously into her pockets before squeezing her eyes shut tightly. The thing hovering over the trees was less than fifty feet from them and Sarah's heart began hammering quickly in her chest. She repressed the urge to scream loudly and swallowed thickly; trying to keep her nerves from taking over. (75 words)

Granted, that's a lot of adverbs. But I'm giving an example here. Too many? You'd be surprised how many people write like that. Let's try again with fewer adverbs:

Sarah tugged on Mark's shirt. "Mark! Look! What is that?" she whispered. Her hands dropped off his shoulders and she stuffed them unceremoniously into her pockets before squeezing her eyes shut tightly. The thing hovering over the trees was less than fifty feet from them and Sarah's heart began hammering in her chest. She repressed the urge to scream and swallowed thickly; trying to keep her nerves from taking over. (70 words)

Okay. That's better, right? But we can make it even better! Let's remove them all and then I'll explain why they aren't needed in either of the examples above:

Sarah tugged on Mark's shirt. "Mark! Look! What is that?" she whispered. Her hands dropped off his shoulders and she stuffed them into her pockets before squeezing her eyes shut. The thing hovering over the trees was less than fifty feet from them and Sarah's heart began hammering in her chest. She repressed the urge to scream and swallowed; trying to keep her nerves from taking over. (67 words)

That's EIGHT words out of a paragraph. When an editor asks you to pare your work down, try removing only the adverbs and see how many words you can cut out with that single act. How many paragraphs in a chapter? You do the math.

Why did I remove all those adverbs? Time to explain, huh? Here I go, line by line:

  1. Sarah tugged on Mark's shirt roughly. Does it really matter how she tugged on his shirt? We're going to understand she's scared in this paragraph. No need to tell your reader how to think.
  2. "Mark! Look! What is that?" she whispered softly. Is there any other way to whisper? However, this is an exception line. If you prefer, you could write she said softly and that would indicate a whisper. But, my thought on that is, why use two words where one will do?
  3. Her hands dropped off his shoulders quickly and she stuffed them unceremoniously into her pockets before squeezing her eyes shut tightly. Your reader doesn't need to know how fast she dropped her hands. There is no other way to stuff one's hands in one's pockets other than unceremoniously and, I don't know about you, but if I squeeze my eyes shut, it's always tightly. Redundant words. Remove them.
  4. The thing hovering over the trees was less than fifty feet from them and Sarah's heart began hammering quickly in her chest. Does your heart hammer and not feel like it's pounding at 50mph in your chest?
  5. She repressed the urge to scream loudly and swallowed thickly; trying to keep her nerves from taking over. Again, to tell someone she is going to scream loudly is redundant. That's like saying I'm  a little bit pregnant. Either you are or you aren't, there's no in-between state. If you must, the one adjective I could see leaving in is thickly. But, as you can see in the example without the word, it isn't needed.

When in doubt, take it out!

Did this help you at all? Come back next week when I discuss sentence construction and rewording! I'll keep using the example of text above and we'll see how far down we can pare it without losing the gist of what it's saying. Sounds fun, huh?

What else about storytelling would you like to see discussed on my blog?

Well, that's all for today, folks! Until next time, WRITE ON!

Jo

4 comments:

  1. Great post, especially with the examples. Maybe I'm losing it here, but aren't we talking about adverbs not adjectives?

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    1. YES! LOL! I was never awesome with the parts of speech. Thank you, Tia, for pointing that out... I will be correcting it LOL

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  2. I am bookmarking this post. This is fantastic. I hate adverbs with a passion. Very well said and well done!

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    1. Thank you, Angella! I try very hard to write posts worth reading :)

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