Sunday, July 14, 2013

Adverbs - Brian McKinley - Biggest 'Ah-Ha!' Moments in Writing

     Wearily, I stared at the blindingly, achingly empty void that was the white screen of Microsoft Word. I tried vainly to come up with an entertainingly, informatively, and completely original way of demonstrating how constantly writers turn to vaguely descriptive adverbs as a short-cut. Ingeniously, insidiously, and mischievously I contemplated an opening paragraph full of these tritely clichéd and unnecessarily inserted –ly adverbs just to prove my point. One paragraph down, two to go, I thought smugly.

      More than anything else, it was Stephen King’s On Writing that provided me with my “Ah-ha!” moment concerning –ly adverbs. King is a writer I admire tremendously, and so I took his advice to heart despite having no doubt heard that same piece of advice many times before. But why hate on those harmless little adverbs? The reason behind the advice is that many inexperienced writers over-use these adverbs in place of good description. This is most often the case in dialogue attribution, where the –ly adverb is thrown in to add some spice or explain to the reader how a line was said. However, nine times out of ten, you will find that if you write your dialogue well, choosing the best words in the best order, then the reader will hear the proper tone as they read it.

     So, should –ly and other adverbs be banned from all writing? Of course not, like all elements of language, they serve a purpose and can bring color and zing to your prose. The key is to think of them like strong spices in the cabinet and use them sparingly and appropriately (like I just did). My practice is to write my first draft and then, when I go back, eliminate all the –ly’s and other weak adverbs that aren’t necessary to my sentences. If I can’t understand how something is happening without them, then they stay, but most times I find that I can cut all the quickly’s, suddenly’s, immediately’s, and other such false-excitement words out without loosing anything.

My name is Brian Patrick McKinley and my first novel is called Ancient Blood: A Novel of the Hegemony. The Chermasu, and Monsters.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

brian, do you remember me? Dejah Britton....I wrote about the 'Aviants'....

I'll check back to see if you get this comment...