Friday, January 6, 2012

Adverbs Revisited

Recently I have been anxiously reading through my manuscripts, looking carefully and thoroughly for dreaded adverbs. Fretfully scanning page after page I have sadly found more than I like to admit. When one of the offensive adverbs is found, I forcefully and soundly hit the delete key. Surely, there are better ways to express myself, than to lean pathetically on weak adverbs. Apparently, using adverbs heavily is a sign of an immature writer.

Oh dear. In truth, not just in parody paragraphs, I do indeed use adverbs. Probably too many.  But then, I am an immature, FLEDGLING writer. As I continue to improve my craft I am trying to weed out some of my bad habits. But adverbs are just so handy.

Last night I was reading the chapter on the evils of adverbs in Roy Peter Clark’s excellent book, Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer.  After reprimanding the reader he added a disclaimer: the wealthiest writer in the world today uses adverbs in her highly popular books. Lots of them. Look through any one of those Harry Potter books on your bookshelf, and you will discover J.K. Rowling’s affinity for the dreaded adverb. God bless you Ms. Rowling! I love a good adverb too!

But I’m still going to work to find more direct, and interesting ways to write that “he whispered softly in her ear.” That attribution is a perfect example of why adverbs are usually superfluous. If he whispered something then it was by definition in a soft voice. But when an adverb is used to modify a verb in a new and interesting, and unexpected way, it can be used with impunity. Clark uses the example of “Killing Me Softly”. You don’t expect the word ‘softly’ to be used to describe ‘killing’. So it works, and the adverb has earned its place in that phrase. It would have been overkill (excuse the pun) to say “Killing Me Fiercely” as killing is most usually a fierce act.

So, I continue to hunt for adverbs. However, like those that can be found in a Harry Potter book, a few just may be allowed to stick around.

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