1. Phantom_Of3
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    Phantom_Of3 Member

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    Adverbs and adjectives=bad?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Phantom_Of3, Jan 8, 2012.

    According to Stephen King (in his book On Writing) adjectives and adverbs should rarely be used, though he admits that he is guilty of using them himself. But to me, this seems a bit ridiculous. After all, can't adverbs help better highlight an action, and aren't adjectives great to paint a clear picture in the reader's head? And, if you pick up any classic, you'll find more adjectives then you could count on one thousand hands! So, tell me, in your opinion, is it a bit naive to be so against the usage of these? Is there some precaution we should take against adverb and adjective usage, so as not to overuse, or is there really no line?
     
  2. Ziggy Stardust
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    Ziggy Stardust Active Member

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    I haven't read that book, but I imagine it's his suggestions for novice writers? Many people suffer from over describing things and redundant language. I wouldn't say "rarely", but "sparingly". Don't just throw adjectives and adverbs around all over the place. There's no "line", it's all about the writer's judgement.
     
  3. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    In On Writing, he mentions a brilliant little book called The Elements of Style. Now, this will tie in nicely with Ziggy's post: the advice you get in The Elements of Style is "Do not construct awkward adverbs."
    This is much better, clearer advice. It's okay to say "quickly" or "drunkenly", but you should probably avoid "fragilely", or other adverbs that don't sound that great. Actually, fragilely isn't that bad. Basically, though, if it's hard to pronounce, don't use it. If it'd be easier to say it another way, don't use it. Just follow the - again, better and clearer - advice from The Element's of Style. Do not construct awkward adverbs.
     
  4. L a u r a
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    L a u r a Senior Member

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    I like what Ziggy Stardust said about people suffering "from over describing things and redundant language." Often times, novice writers will rattle off a string of adjectives that mean virtually the same thing to describe a single object. Or they'll use adjectives/adverbs to cover up weak nouns/verbs--or say something like "slowly strolled" which is redundant because to "stroll" means to "walk slowly."

    So, no, I don't think this is "naive" to go against the usage of adjectives and adverbs. Rather, I think it makes your writing stronger if you sift through it all, highlight the adjectives and adverbs, and see if you can replace them with stronger nouns and verbs.

    I wrote a blog post on this awhile back (not on this website) if you'd like to take a look:
    http://thewritersguide.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/adjectives-do-they-deepen-or-dilute-your-writing/
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I thought that Stephen King's opposition was mostly to adverbs, not adjectives?

    But, anyway, I'd say that adjectives should be used sparingly and adverbs should be used _extremely_ sparingly. To me, they can both have a vibe of tapping the reader on the shoulder and explaining, "He said that _angrily_. You got that? Do you understand or are you too stupid?"

    For example, consider the following without adverbs:

    Fred reached for the switch. "So, shall I turn it on?"
    Joe set his jaw. "Don't even think about it."

    and with adverbs:

    Fred reached for the switch. Tauntingly, "So, shall I turn it on?"
    Joe set his jaw. Threateningly, "Don't even think about it."

    To me, the second example is tapping the reader on the shoulder and explaining. If the reader doesn't understand the mood of what Fred and Joe are saying, the flaw is not a lack of Post-It notes explaining "This character is TAUNTING the other character", the flaw is the writing of the action and dialogue.

    That's not to say that there's never a time when adverbs are appropriate, but I'd say that the vast majority of the time, if the writer doesn't think that he's made himself clear, he needs to rewrite rather than explain.

    Adjectives are, IMO, different. The things that they explain are usually perfectly reasonable - the translucent teacup, the cold floor, the well-scrubbed face. The main issue with adjectives is when the writer tries to pack too many in. It's not a beautiful, fragile, expensive, translucent teacup, it's one of those things, or if the teacup is very very important, maybe two. While all four of those aspects of the teacup may be perfectly legitimate, when they're all packed in together like that the user is likely to drown in the adjectives and not take any of them in.
     
  6. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree about your points on adjectives, but you're mostly referring to dialogue attribution there, so it's not entirely relevant since dialogue attribution should be moderated as much as possible anyway.
     
  7. pinkgiraffe
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    pinkgiraffe Member

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    Adjectives and adverbs aren't bad; they're useful tools. The thing to avoid is redundancy, and unnecessary detail. For instance, unless it is relevant to the plot or the character development, I don't need to know that the coffee mug is blue, or heavy, or chipped (although you might want to tell me it's chipped if in doing so you reveal that the owner can't afford new things). Whenever you use an adjective, make sure that you're not repeating yourself: e.g. if you find yourself putting the adjective 'old' with 'pensioner', or 'huge' with 'skyscraper', you probably want to think again. I know that pensioners are (usually) old and skyscrapers are huge - you don't need to tell me that.

    Also, the more adjectives in your work, the more they lose their power. One well-chosen adjective is much better than 3 ones that only skirt around the meaning you want.

    When using adverbs, ask yourself whether you could have used a different verb instead, e.g. instead of 'he walked slowly and lethargically down the street', you could say 'he plodded', or replace 'he walked bouncily' with 'he skipped'.

    As the person above says, too many adverbs describing how characters deliver dialogue can be annoying, as it distracts attention away from what they're actually saying, constantly drawing you out of the scene and back into narration. The dialogue should really speak for itself.
     
  8. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with chickenfreak. that is what i think too, and i try to practise that as I write.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    only when over-used or mis-used...
     
  10. Mercury12000
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    Mercury12000 Member

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    I think it boils down to this: Show, don't tell.

    Instead of saying "Joe nervously drove his car" (the word "nervously" being the adverb), you should describe Joe nervously driving his car. Say that his hand were shaking, say his eyes darted all around, say he couldn't concentrate.
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Adverb / verb combinations are often weak substitutions for better verbs. Beginning writers tend to overuse them, and it makes the writing weak.

    For example, you could say "John moved swiftly to the exit." That's a weak verb / adverb combination when compared to "John ran to the exit," or "John sprinted to the exit," so long as those stronger forms are an accurate description of what John is doing. Adverbs can be useful when they modify a verb in unexpected ways, however. If John is really crouched down and moving quickly for someone in that position, you might say he "crept swiftly." The adverb modifies the verb is a way that is different from what the reader might envision without it, since creeping is generally a slow act. Of course, if you can get rid of the adverb and verb combo and come up with a single verb that describes the act of creeping quickly, then that is even better.
     
  12. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    Steerpike: Great point. Instructive too. I just realized something I hadn't thought of before. Thanks! :)
     
  13. thalorin19
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    thalorin19 Member

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    Read the same book, agree with him on the adverbs.

    Remember reading Salems' Lot a few months ago, one of his first book, and was pretty appalled by the amount of adverbs he used as I was used to reading his newer writings where his style is defined and such.
     
  14. Mercury12000
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    Mercury12000 Member

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    Would anyone agree that it's OK to use adverbs freely in a first draft? They are like placeholders for better prose. Logic being that it is considerably faster to use an adverb and you can always expand on them when you go to edit.
     
  15. naomisarah
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    naomisarah New Member

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    I think you should use EVERYTHING in a first draft, though I think Steerpike and ChickenFreak have the best solutions to the question. In a first draft, I get the idea out. In a second draft, I clean up missing character development and plot holes and rearrange anything that disrupts the flow of the story. In a third draft, I correct over-used words and excess adverbs/adjectives in favor of more concise action sequences, so that by the fourth or fifth draft I hope to be only modifying/coloring sentences by a word or two.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    In the first draft, you should use absolutely anything you want to use. IMO, the first draft is absolutely no one's business but yours, whether you write it ever so carefully to minimize later editing, go for maximum creative flow with minimal worries about language, or somewhere in between. (Edited to add: And I'm not saying that "ever so carefully" and "maximum creative flow" can't be simultaneous for some people. My whole point is that you do whatever works for you.)
     
  17. cruciFICTION
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    cruciFICTION Contributing Member Contributor

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    Write a first draft as it comes. Don't go out of your way to use adverbs. Just use what comes to you. Really, everything in your first draft should be a placeholder for better prose (except in those instances where you get those really brilliant sentences and paragraphs).
    Logic doesn't work that way in relation to writing. Writing requires the imagination, which relies more on emotion than on anything even remotely logical. Again, write a first draft as it comes.
    You say that you just get the idea out in a first draft, which I think is great, really. That's the best way of looking at it, I think. So why would you say to use "everything"? There's no point in using things if you know you're just going to cut it out at the end.
     
  18. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    J.K. Rowling has gotten a lot of flak from her overuse of adverbs. I've mostly noticed her favorite words are "hotly," and "cooly," used in tags. For example, something like:
    I don't know, I kind of like them here. I think using adverbs in tags is a great way to describe a tone that you wouldn't hear otherwise. "Hotly" and "Cooly" are indirect, meaning you have to infer what the character is really thinking. Is that the real problem, perhaps? Adjectives and adverbs are too direct, but if you use them to make your reader infer on the situation, then maybe it will be okay?

    In any case, I'm a big believer that all rules can be broken as long as it works. You can use any cliche in the book if you know how.
     
  19. naomisarah
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    naomisarah New Member

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    I did not say I "just" get the idea out. I said "I get the idea out." I include everything that feels like it fits because I don't restrict myself to "Oh, I'll say that later" or "Oh, that character shouldn't know that piece of info yet..." I get the idea out of my head and onto paper, using any and all words that express it and do the cleaning up of adverbs/adjectives in a later draft. First draft is a completely unrestricted creative process for me without concern for whether I am using too many of any type of word.
     
  20. Phantom_Of3
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    Phantom_Of3 Member

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    Ultimately, everyone has a different way of going about the writing process. Personally, I like to evaluate what I write as I write it, rather than just leaving mistakes as they are, or in this case, stylistic mistakes. However, I edit later, and rewrite what needs to be rewritten.
     

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