1. Roux
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    Roux Member

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    I've committed a writing sin...

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Roux, Mar 31, 2016.

    Adverbs. They're everywhere. I have always considered myself a fairly decent writer, mainly because I feel I have a knack for developing characters and plotlines. It wasn't until I reread some of my stuff that I've written recently that I had a very important revelation...I'm probably not that great of a writer, because I can't get away from the adverbs. Almost every said has something along the lines of "She said angrily/sadly/annoyingly etc" after it, and so do a lot of the actions in my novel as well.
    I don't know why. Lack of practice/skill maybe? It's just always been how I've written I guess. It's terrible because I now realize how much I break the "show not tell" rule, something I thought I was long past doing. How do you get away from this? How do you stop using adverbs so much? I guess the obvious answer would be to practice more, but I've been writing for a while now so I doubt that will help if I just keep up the same bad habit. Any advice is welcome. Perhaps even some recommendations for something to read that might help?
    Thanks!
     
  2. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, my advice for a preliminary exercise would be.

    1) Write a few pages.
    2) Cut out all the adverbs without making any other change.
    3) Wait two days.
    4) Re-read what you've written and see if you miss the adverbs.

    If you can't stop the adverbs from coming out of your typing fingers, just kill them in editing.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    "Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. There is, and you can’t get out of it. I rewrote the first part of A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. You’ve got to work it over. The first draft of anything is shit. When you first start to write you get all the kick and the reader gets none, but after you learn to work it’s your object to convey everything to the reader so that he remembers it not as a story he had read but something that happened to himself."

    ~ Ernest Hemingway

    Don't beat yourself up. You noted the issue, which is the first step, so now just revisit the writing and let go of the idea that the first draft is sacrosanct and untouchable (if it is that you have espoused that idea).
     
  4. Roux
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    Roux Member

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    I think my biggest problem is that the adverbs are how I describe things. Without them its very plain and robotic and the reader probably wouldn't have any idea of how anything is happening. Which isn't good I know, but that's just how it is haha.
    Thanks to both of you for your comments. :)
     
  5. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's possible, but it's also possible that you just have an adverb addiction. :) Adverbs are often, I'd say usually, redundant clutter. I really think that it would be worthwhile to try the exercise.
     
  6. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    There's nothing wrong with adverbs qua adverbs. There's only a problem when you overuse them in the wrong way. The wrong way is, usually, when you use a weak verb and try to strengthen it with an adverb. You can get away with that once in a while if it's in the service of a greater cause - rhythm, tone, etc. If you do it too much, though, the reader notices, and if the reader notices, it's usually a bad thing.

    As for "show, don't tell," that doesn't even qualify as a rule because it has so many exceptions. Dramatize (show) where it's appropriate, and summarize (tell) where it's appropriate. It's a judgment call. Your judgment will improve with practice, and with reading the work of good writers.

    Good luck! :)
     
  7. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would recommend describing what's happening around the dialogue rather than trying to describe the dialogue itself.

    "Should we stop for gas?" Annie asked non-commitally.
    "No, we're fine," Betty said sarcastically.

    Annie shrugged her shoulders. "Should we stop for gas?"
    Betty stopped herself from laughing. "No, we're fine." The gauge had been on "E" for the last 10 miles, what exactly did Annie think that the plan was going to be? Carrying the car like the Flintstones the rest of the way?​

    Never use adverbs unless they are absolutely necessary.
     
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  8. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Don't feel too bad, I do it too. One cannot see the characters, hence why we fill in the 'visual/tonal' gaps. How else are you going to get an emotion or tone across? I am the worst because I have a character that wears a mask 90-95% of the time, and he smiles beneath it. Along with having other emotions that no one, but the reader knows about. So beating yourself up about it, won't improve anything. I recommend taking the others advice, and see what happens. For all I know, I may be the worst writer here. :D
     
  9. MeadhbhMoryx
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    MeadhbhMoryx Member

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    I've only started writing properly a few months but I noticed this myself. I also read articles online that said to cut it out as much as possible. So I went back over my writing and straight up chopped them off and worked from there. There are still some but that is okay.

    This might be an example:

    Anger flickered across his face, his jaws clenched.
    'Blasphemy is a killing offense'.
    (Did not state how he said it)

    A flicker of disquiet darted through her and she wondered about him, maybe she had said too much, maybe he would kill her.
    He could. It would be viewed as a righteous act.
    'So kill me then', she laughed to break the tension, bending to examine a plant, she hid her shaking hands...

    Instead of the 'he said angrily'- Tell of the flared nostrils, bared teeth, narrowed eyes..etc

    From what I've read, the advice is: you will not have to use adverbs so much if you can show how the character is feeling by the way you describe their physical features, internal sensations, mental responses, cues of suppressed emotion and long term suppression, voice pitch. Dialogue is great for it.

    To help me with this I got a book that tells you all that stuff for particular emotions. Like a thesaurus. (Can I say the name?)

    So I've just been using all that to try avoid adverbs and to 'Show not Tell.
     
  10. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I find when I use adverbs I'm in a hurry and I want to summarize. But when I don't want to rush things I write a few more sentences of show. Rather than say John kissed Mary passionately ( which feels like a summary - I've informed the reader ) - I build up a few sentences so that when he kisses her I don't need to add passionately the reader will get the inferred idea with all the little details.

    When you're using them in descriptions it's probably because you're unsure of your verb. One good way to help the verb out is to strengthen the surrounding context. How are your nouns? If they're vague it puts more stress on the verb and it's more tempting to back it up with an adverb.

    Also in dialogue keep focus on the mc. That way you don't need to say - John said angrily - if Mary is your mc she can observe things like - Boy, did John sound pissed.
     
  11. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    Good point to ponder @peachalulu — adverbs are the seeds of exposition so sow on. :)
     
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  12. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Every time you want to use an adverb, ask yourself if there's a better way of saying the same thing. It will likely require more words, but if the result is that it's more vivid, then great!

    Anyway, nothing wrong with using adverbs per se. It's all a matter of whether that's the best way to go about the scene. Sometimes adverbs are best, other times not. Use your discretion and don't follow any rules that says "never" in it!
     
  13. Oscar Leigh
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    Oscar Leigh Contributing Member

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    Oh my god, yes. I'm so sick of hearing people sound a little dogmatic about adverbs and description. Sometimes plain talk is actually preferred, sometimes it's even more evocative, it's not that simple.
     
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  14. MikeyC
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    MikeyC Member

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    I would just like to say a big Thank you to the OP and subsequent posts.

    It has really made me re-evaluate my work. I now need to do a complete edit of my second book, again ;-), before I send it to agents. And it will read an awful lot better, thanks to you guys!!!

    Cheers

    Rgds

    Mike
     
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  15. Lew
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    Lew Contributing Member Contributor

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    Easy way. Do a global search for 'ly' to find where you used adverbs. If they are in the tag line, study what you said. @Simpson17866 gave a great example of how to turn a flat adverb into a stunningly visual, active and humorous scene. See if you already did that, and that adverb was redundant, or if you need to throw in what the characters are doing/seeing. We have all done this, and in fact I was over 100K words down in my WIP before I even knew there was this rule!
     
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  16. Simpson17866
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    Simpson17866 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thank you very much :D
     
  17. Brindy
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    Brindy Contributing Member Supporter

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    What an interesting thread. and a useful tip for searching for ly, just to check for over-use. I am just re-working my first draft, so this will be a quick way to check if I am guilty and need more re-writing than I'd thought.
     

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