Friday, 27 April 2018

Adverbs or No Adverbs?

Welcome romance writer, Paula Martin, to Hearticles. She's guest posting about adverbs in our stories. Take it away, Paula.

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‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs.'
- Stephen King

In one sense, I agree with him. Adverbs can often indicate lazy writing. Recently I read a novel (by a best-selling author) which was littered with adverbs, especially after dialogue tags. On one Kindle page alone, there was: said truculently, said coldly, retorted sarcastically, said wearily, reiterated sullenly, said dourly - and when I got to 'she ejaculated hoarsely’ I nearly splurted my coffee in the middle of Starbucks!

Yes, there are times when we should avoid adverbs, especially when they are redundant e.g. she whispered quietly or when the adverb can be replaced by a stronger verb, e.g he raced down the street instead of he walked quickly. Of course, you could tell your readers: The rain came down heavily, and the wind blew strongly against the side of the car – but how much better to give them a visual and audible experience – Strong gusts slammed against the car and the frenzied to and fro of the wipers wasn’t fast enough to cope with the rain that battered the windscreen and pummelled the car roof like a thousand metal nails.

With dialogue, it is usually better to show (with a smile action/gesture) how a character is feeling, rather than giving readers a plethora of synonyms for ‘said’ combined with adverbs to tell them how someone said something. For example, with the above speech tags, She said truculently could be replaced by She scowled or She glowered at him. Similarly, she retorted sarcastically might be better shown as She crossed her arms and smirked. I’ll leave it to you to find a better way of showing how she ejaculated hoarsely!


However, this doesn’t mean that ALL adverbs have to be deleted! Sometimes an effort to do that can lead to clunky writing, especially if the writer is simply substituting an adverbial phrase in place of the adverb. Isn’t it better to say He stroked her cheek tenderly instead of He stroked her cheek in a tender manner (or any other verbose description of what ‘tenderly’ means).

Do a search of your latest chapter for ‘ly’ words, and you’ll probably (there’s one!) be surprised by how often you use words ending in ‘ly’. Then consider how the sentences containing each of those words could be rewritten. Could I have removed ‘probably’ from the above sentence? Yes, but then I’d be assuming that you will be surprised or, worse still, insinuating that you have used millions of adverbs! Omitting that adverb would change the whole meaning of the sentence – and that can be true in our fiction writing, too. Therefore we need to choose carefully which adverbs to retain and which to delete or replace.

I do think we need to be aware of not overusing adverbs, but at the same time, not go overboard trying to find other words or phrases. There’s always a danger of giving the impression that you have swallowed a thesaurus – and sometimes a simple adverb is the best word to use.

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Thank you, Paula!

Readers, take at look at your writing. Please feel free to share an example or two of what you found and how you've changed it.

And feel free to let us know if you have any questions in the comments below.

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Paula Martin lives near Manchester in North West England and has two daughters and two grandsons.

She had some early publishing success with four romance novels and several short stories, but then had a break from writing while she brought up a young family and also pursued her career as a history teacher for twenty-five years.

She returned to writing fiction after retiring from teaching, and is thrilled to have found publishing success again with her contemporary romances.

Apart from writing, she enjoys visiting new places and has travelled extensively in Britain and Ireland, mainland Europe, the Middle East, USA and Canada. Her other interests include musical theatre and tracing her family history.

Paula is the author of the Mist na Mara series, and Her Only Option.

    

Find Paula online:

Website - http://paulamartinromances.webs.com
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/paulamartinromances
Facebook - https://www.facebook.com/RomancesbyPaulaMartin
Blog - http://paulamartinpotpourri.blogspot.co.uk
Blog - http://heroineswithhearts.blogspot.co.uk
Tirgearr Publishing - http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com/authors/Martin_Paula



12 comments:

  1. Great article! I try and be aware of adverbs, but they definately creep in when you aren't paying attention. I love your example of:
    "The rain came down heavily, and the wind blew strongly against the side of the car – but how much better to give them a visual and audible experience – Strong gusts slammed against the car and the frenzied to and fro of the wipers wasn’t fast enough to cope with the rain that battered the windscreen and pummelled the car roof like a thousand metal nails."
    It really shows how much better the writing can be by being aware. By the way "'she ejaculated hoarsely’ " made me spit my coffee out too, lol!

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    1. Thanks, Andi. I agree about adverbs creeping in, and I'm getting better at avoiding them, but I still have to do an 'ly' search once I finish the first draft.

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  2. The debate about adverbs is flavour of the month at the moment. I agree with your stance on it, Paula, but it's the proliferation of adverbs that creates the problem. English is such a rich language, it would be a pity to exclude one part of speech in our writing.

    On what grounds? Is it back to the old 'show, don't tell' question? In an effort to 'show', I think writers have gone overboard, and sometimes produce text that is clumsy and unnatural. The famous example of a man ducking to pass through a low door uses so many words in order to 'show' that the guy was tall, while adding no further useful information.

    Who are the custodians of the language who inject these ideas into the writing debate? Some, like Stephen King, are well-respected, and it's important that we heed them, but it doesn't mean their ideas have to be applied in every situation for evermore.

    Where writing becomes stilted (as in overuse of adverbs, or an obviously (!) determined effort to 'show' rather than 'tell'), the prose loses its natural flow and suffers as a result.

    And don't get me started on the use of the passive...

    An interesting post, Paula.

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    1. Joan, I agree. As you say, writing can become stilted with overuse of adverbs and/or with efforts to avoid them. Somehow we have to find a happy medium :-)

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  3. Hi Paula,
    You hooked me with your first paragraph and the "ejaculated hoarsely" - while I was also drinking my morning coffee. Splurted? Almost!
    I think these pesky adverbs creep into our writing because they are so ubiquitous in our speech. Just listen in to any random conversation next time you visit your local Starbucks, and you'll see what I mean.
    Too many adverbs quickly (!) becomes tedious, too few can dull the prose. They require a delicate balance. Follow my grandmother's favorite axiom "all things in moderation."
    I usually find far too many in my first drafts. That always alerts me to areas that require more attention to description and action.
    Nice article.

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    1. Thanks, Aleigha! 'All things in moderation' is excellent advice! As you say, it's the overuse that can become tedious - and also meaningless. Or in the case of 'ejaculating hoarsely', hilarious!

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  4. A cracking article - thank you! Will try not to 'swallow a thesaurus' in future :)

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  5. I really enjoyed this post, great advice, Paula.

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  6. I agree whole heartedly with your stance on this pesky issue, Paula. Cutting out all adverbs (unless writing a certain kind of punchy literary fiction) is as wrong as over-larding a narrative with too many. Btw, When I was young a read a lot of edwardian writing - Ethel M Dell et al. There was a great deal of ejaculation in those days, alongside the 'unutterable' emotions everyone battled with!

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    1. We think alike about adverbs, Gilli :-) Also, it's interesting how the use of words has changed over time - or maybe Edwardian readers didn't know the 'other' meaning of ejaculate!

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