Success only flourishes in perseverance -- ceaseless, restless perseverance.
--Baron Manfred Von Richtofen

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Heavy Hitters

Or, The Writing is Only as Strong as its Weakest Adverb

At the workshop I went to recently, my friend Kathleen talked about the beautiful story in our heads, and how the manuscript isn't that beautiful story. It's just a bunch of stupid, clumsy words we're trying to use to recreate our beautiful story in the reader's head. (I think she was quoting someone else, but I can't remember who.) Anyway, she's right. My feeling is that we want to make the stupid, clumsy words become as transparent as we can make them, so that the reader doesn't notice that he's reading. He's living that beautiful story we've created. The real heavy hitters to achieve that are the nouns and the verbs. Vibrant, active words. Adjectives and adverbs are less "transparent," if that makes any sense. Adjectives can be good if you don't overdo it, but adverbs almost always jump out and say, "You're reading something here." I'm not saying never use adverbs. Some well placed adverbs can work splendidly (adverb :p). But overdone, they become distracting and weaken the prose. I'll try and give an example:

Weak:
She almost had him. Her fingertips lightly touched his waist as a cold, dark hand closed around his arm and pulled him roughly away from her. "Caleb!" she cried loudly. She couldn't think, couldn't breath. His terrified cries achingly broke her heart.

Strong:
She almost had him. Her fingertips brushed against his waist as a cold, dark hand closed around his arm and snatched him away from her. "Caleb!" She couldn't think, couldn't breathe. His terrified cries shattered her heart.

You can replace "lightly touched" with "brushed," "pulled him roughly" with "snatched" and "achingly broke" with "shattered." And "she cried loudly" doesn't need to be in there at all.

Make sense? Happy writing!

6 comments:

Selena said...

Good advice. Thanks!

Danyelle said...

I agree. :) To some, adverbs are the bane of life. For me, they are a spice that is there for a reason, but shouldn't be slathered on.

Mary Moss said...

Very good advice! As one of 'too many words' I will definitely take this to heart:-)

Nisa said...

Danyelle, I love slathering on spices! lol

Okay, I'm guilty of loving adverbs too... What about in dialogue? I think that's probably where I use them the most. I have a lot to fix... My cooking will remain very garlicky however. :P

Great post, Angie!

Cynde L. Hammond said...

How "write" you are, Angie!
Great post! By the way...your children in the chair are precious. I bet the rest of them are equally as adorable.

Thanks for signing up to "follow" my blog--I just did the same with yours (and I love it, too--it's great!)

Sincerely,
Cynde
Cynde's Got The Write Stuff

Suzette Saxton said...

What good examples! Death to adverbs!