This morning I’m sorting through all the random flotsam in my brain, like, how irritating it is when someone asks, “How do I get published?” I’m wondering if I’ll survive my speaking engagement later this week. And, I’m mulling over the conversations had yesterday at a writer’s meeting about why we shouldn’t use adverbs.
Let’s talk about these dog-gone adverbs, shall we?
When I started writing, several more established writers told me, “Don’t use “ly,” words.”
Here is where I’ll confess my weakness… my kryptonite, if you will. Grammar. Spelling. Punctuation. Blechy. We hates ‘em, as Gollum might say. Tedious rules. Creative types like to dance around the inner-circle of rules and stick out our tongues, our thumbs in our ears as we wiggle our fingers… “Na, na, na, boo, boo!!!” We throw rotten tomatoes at the rules.
The inner-editorial-circle laughs at us because they know, in the end, we’ll be forced to succumb.
Oh, I can write a story. I can come up with a plot and characters. I can twist a mean phrase. But how should I punctuate it, is a question I feel very, “let’s just wait and see,” about. I’m willing to let my critique group point out issues. Maybe some beta readers will lend a hand. In the end, I’ll pay an editor to sweep up the messes in my manuscript. This whole rule-thing gets in the way of my creative process. I poo-poo the rules while I’m writing, even though I know I’ll have to use them in the end.
So, back when “they” told me, “Don’t use “ly” words,” I blindly followed the advice because, although I don’t like rules, I do want to write well, and I listen to those who are more knowledgeable. Yet, the question nagged at me… WHY?
Turns out, “ly,” words are adverbs. In a writer’s world, they are a red flag. An alarm sounding. “BEEP, BEEP, BEEP — CLEAN UP ON PARAGRAPH FOUR, PAGE TWO.” You see, those folks who simply (gasp, I just used an adverb) told me not to use adverbs, didn’t tell me why. They probably didn’t really understand.
Adverbs can indicate we’ve dropped the ball and gotten lazy. I gingerly walked across the wet street… the adverb, gingerly, tells me I might want to re-examine the sentence to see if I can’t find a stronger verb. I tip-toed across the wet street, or I cringed with each soaking and tentative step… that kind of thing.
Can you never ever, no way, no how, use an adverb? Gosh, golly, gee… that’s mindless rigidity in my book. Sometimes an adverb allows brevity we may need. These adverbs, you know, they are actual words. We CAN use them.
I barely noticed the stubble of whiskers on his chiseled jaw. I like the adverb in that sentence. It says exactly what I want it to say. Oh, I noticed… but I’m telling you I wanted to believe his handsome beard shadow didn’t make me all tingly inside. I could have eliminated the adverb and reworded the sentence:
The stubble of whiskers on his chiseled jaw almost made me swoon, but I managed to act as though I didn’t notice. I’ll stick with barely. It’s more succinct. It says what I want it to say. Of course, there are a million ways to word that sentence. I know and you know I could word it in a better way and avoid that adverb, and maybe I would choose to do it. You see, this is why I say the adverb is a red light. We may want to stop and give it a looksie to find out if we can make it better. Maybe we can, maybe it’s fine the way it is. Let’s not get all rigid and rule-crazy about. Let’s understand why we keep it, or get rid of it.
This is what writers do. We look at every sentence… again, and again, and again. We have other people look at our sentences. We strive to communicate our thoughts in the cleanest, clearest way, so our readers can experience optimum enjoyment of the story we’ve written. And yes, rules help us do it. Hates them or not, we must understand and use them when required.
So, in essence, give those adverbs a look. Your sentence might be far more interesting if you get rid of the lazy adverb and replace it with a kick-butt verb. Or maybe your sentence says exactly (see what I did there) the perfect word for that sentence. Rules are there for a reason, but another cliché’ tells us they are meant to be broken. You are the best judge of what you’re saying and how you say it, but you must understand why you are following a rule. Knowledge is power. If you understand why you are following a rule, your writing life will all begin to make much better sense.
By the way, I’ll never write a blog post about spelling or comma usage. Not. My. Wheelhouse!
All grammatical corrections are welcome. I know you editor types cringe when I mess up. Problems are in here… I’m sure of it. If you tell me about them, we all learn! Go ahead and sound off about your opinion on adverbs. We learn through discussion, and I’m always open to ideas presented in an intelligent and constructive way.