1. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    Are adverbs always inexcusable?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Stammis, Mar 5, 2016.

    I've been working on removing as many adverbs as possible in my text and oddly enough, I ended up improving the text significantly without actually removing the adverb. Does this seem right? are adverbs always inexcusable, unless it is part of the dialogue?

    She snugged in her bed as the warming rays of the sun gently caressed her cheek. To her surprise, neither she, nor the blanket were scattered on the floor, or on any other parts of the bed. It had been a peaceful night, and a peaceful wakening.
     
  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Adverbs are useful when they're useful. There's nothing wrong with them in an absolute way, but there can be a tendency to overuse them.

    In the sample:

    I can see "warming" as adding something to the sentence, but for me, "gently" is unnecessary and takes away from things. "Warming" lets me know we're talking about temperature, not light, but "gently"? I can't imagine a non-gentle caress.

    (And not adverb related, but how could a human being be "scattered on the floor" without serious medical issues? Maybe "scattered" isn't quite the right word, there?)
     
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  3. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    If adverbs were always inexcusable, they wouldn't be part of our language. They can complete a picture for the reader. Just don't let them become habitual and tack them on to every verb, or use them to modify verbs that mean the same thing (gently caressed, as @BayView pointed out is a redundant phrase.) Don't make a habit of choosing weak verbs and modifying them with adverbs to make them colourful. Always seek the best verb you can summon up.

    She walked slowly down the street uses an adverb. However, you could be more specific and say 'she ambled down the street,' or 'she stumbled down the street,' or 'she crept down the street,' or 'she sauntered down the street' or any other word that would conjure up the right picture in the reader's mind. However, you could also say 'she walked slowly down the street, trusting he would soon catch up.' It all boils down to the effect you want to create. In the last example it's the fact that she's moving slowly—for a reason—that matters to the story, not the manner of her gait.
     
    Last edited: Mar 6, 2016
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  4. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Of course not "always." Overuse is the issue. Bad use.
     
  5. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    You've got a point. What I am trying to say is that she hasn't moved in her sleep, so I guess it is implied that if she remained still her blanket should have too.
     
  6. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    You've got a point. What I am trying to say is that she hasn't moved in her sleep, so I guess it is implied that if she remained still her blanket should have too.
     
  7. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    I got the general idea, I just had to work through the mental image of a scattered person in order to get it!

    Maybe: To her surprise, she was still in bed, her covers tidy around her.

    It doesn't have quite the same flair, but I feel like it makes more sense?
     
  8. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    Does this work better?

    She snugged in her bed as the warming rays of the sun caressed her cheek. To her surprise, she remained in her bed, still with her head resting against the pillow. It had been a peaceful night, and a peaceful wakening.
     
  9. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    It makes it sound like the "remaining" part is currently happening - like, even though the sun touched her cheek she wasn't tossed out of bed. Which doesn't make too much sense to me.

    I hesitate to say anything based on a just a couple of sentences of work, but is it possible you're trying a bit too hard for style, and it's coming at the expense of clarity?
     
  10. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    Perhaps. She has had nightmares every night, but after something happening in the last chapter, she hoped that this would no longer be the case. I just want to drive though that she indeed didn't have any nightmares that night, and that she wakes up in the nicest way possible.
     
  11. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    ...[though if it was a 'creative writing' course submission the tutor would be gnashing, tearing clumps of hair as the sun spilled past the curtains, cast warm rays that trailed over the pillow, shadows turned white as sheets of the bed, daytime had arrived and she stretched, her pyjamas ruffled like a riffle, everything in fact like something else, although in the next sentence like something else, again, like a, well, whatever, like a liking for an object or a metaphor stringing allusions, burned eyeballs across every universe ever...]
     
  12. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    So you prefer the original version?

    The sun shone brightly through her window, warming her cheek and gently waking her. She snugged in the bed, reluctant to get up; it had been a peaceful night, and a peaceful wakening.
     
  13. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's a little too 'received' - the [renowned] lovingly, hand-crafted daylight opening -

    though I'm all for bucking trends -

    though me - I write with my ears, rather than with my eyes, you see...umm, rhythm..

    [also] as to your adverbs - they tend to trip the reader's eye, instead send a reader hurtling into journey, scene, story without any distraction.

    [also] you don't want the reader seeing the invisible hand at work, of the writer. You want readers eased and soothed, led, feeling they are in the arm-chair of a story-teller, it gives a reader confidence. Very difficult to get right, of course. Mostly I don't get it quite right, sabotage myself with strings of semi-colons all over the house;
     
  14. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I see onl one adverb in the original sample--"gently." "Warming" in an adjective modifying the noun "rays."

    I'm a bit puzzled about your mention of adverbs in dialogue. While they're not forbidden, dialogue is often one of the worst places for them, but you (original poster, that is) seem to be suggesting otherwise?

    Anyway, adverbs aren't inherently wrong, they're just very often either clumsy or redundant. Not always, just often.
     
  15. R.P. Kraul
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    R.P. Kraul Member

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    This is one of the great writing myths. If you write with verbs--which is to say you strip away as many nominalizations as possible--you will find adverbs far more useful. This is not to say that they are always good, but they can add that subtle flavor, when we use them moderately, precisely, and not too regularly.
     
  16. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    You sound like an adverb salesman, and probably are an adverb salesman, your case crammed with conjunctions, prepositions as well. For me there is nothing better than a sentence completely void of any sense or any meaning to anybody but myself, and that is my achievement, so keep your adverbs, thank you.
     
  17. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Okay @Stammis, use this section, adverb heavy, I'm afraid:

    She snugg[l]ed lovingly in her bed against Whiskers, her one eyed rescue cat. He purred manfully as the warming rays of the sun gently caressed both her cheeks . To her surprise, neither she, nor the blanket were scattered lustfully on the floor by Whiskers, [also] other parts of the bed remained intact. It had been a peaceful night, apart from the handcuffs attached to the headboard, and a peaceful wakening aside Whiskers and his appetite.
     
  18. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    You're a pretty weird guy, a got to say...
     
  19. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I think your example is better without the "gently", but I don't think adverbs are inexcusable. In fact, I really like them as part of a dialogue tag - occasionally. Like cake, they should be enjoyed in moderation. :)
     
  20. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, THAT's an excellent point. Sigh.
     
  21. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    One of the first lesson that James Hynes teaches in his GreatCourse "Writing Great Fiction: Storytelling Tips and Techniques":

    Never use adverbs unless they are absolutely necessary :cool:
     
  22. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Adverbs get a bad rap. Personally I like them but you have to really examine what they're doing for your sentence. Cause sometimes they're just standing around taking up space, being redundant or offering no clarity. And sometimes they actually steal the verb's thunder. You have to think of the overall good of the image not just hate on them because they're an adverb. What's the adverb's motive for the scene.

    Gently caressing - works for me only if the gentle caresser is King Kong or Koko the gorilla ( or something like that ) because it's really stamping the idea into the reader that despite this creature's size he/she can caress - gently. But for sunlight, or a mother, or a lover ( unless he's been described as a thoughtless cad, or the mother is a cold person) they're a given that they would caress gently.
    As for the new version - it's fine but if this is an opening I'd rethink it. Just for the whole wake-up, sunshine, not wanting to get out bed thing. I'm with Matwoolf as that's been done a lot.
     
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  23. Stammis
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    Stammis Contributing Member

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    I see. I have read that it is considered lazy to use adverbs when you can (not always) describe, for instance, a facial expression, instead of simply writing, she smiled warmly. But it seems most of you considered my description to be arbitrary.
     
  24. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you use ten words when one is enough. Adverbs are the enemy of the verb and overuse is the hallmark of the novice, so use them sparingly and look for a vigorous, descriptive verb. Sun shines "brightly", or caresses "gently" anyway, adverbs are unnecessary there.
     

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