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  1. Iaevich
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    Iaevich Member

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    So; adverbs...

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Iaevich, Sep 16, 2008.

    I read on another thread (think it was Twit on yours Scattercat?) that use of adverbs is frowned upon. Is this an example of "telling", not "showing"? I'm nearing the end of my book, and I'm aware that I've used adverbs rather regularly. In some instances I've changed the word where I think it flows better without, but I'm wondering if it's something that I'll want to change when I go through and edit.

    I haven't really read regularly for about 7 or 8 years (degree, and then just not getting round to it) so I'm very aware that I might not be in the best position to judge flow. I do read a fair amount of online material though, so hopefully that will have improved my writing...

    Anyway, specific examples:

    "dialogue," Joshua sighed theatrically.
    "dialogue," Joshua sighed, as he twirled a pencil with a theatrical flourish.

    Obviously the second is rather more interesting because of the additional information, but is the use of adverbs just something which should generally be avoided?

    Thanks!
     
  2. Palimpsest
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    Palimpsest Senior Member

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    Most people I've asked say yes. I disagree.

    I understand that it can force us to write more clearly and look for a more original turn of phrase, but to avoid adverbs like the plague I think is going a little overboard. For example, this paragraph would not necessarily be more clear if I'd typed, "I understand that it can force us to write with more clarity" instead of using the adverb clearly.

    But, a sentence like "He moved quickly across the courtyard" would be clearer if we replaced 'moved quickly' with a more specific verb: the character could be striding and we'd get the impression that he naturally carries himself like that, or he could be hurrying to someplace that we look forward to, or fleeing a threat so we know this is a thriller.
    A simile might even be in order: "He crossed the courtyard with somewhat fastidious speed, like a Japanese bullet train." Okay, they can't all be winners, but it's a creative way to avoid the vagueness.
     
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  3. ciavyn
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    ciavyn Senior Member

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    I am an adverb-removal-nazi! However, there are times when they are appropriate. What you need to do when you begin your rewrite, is each time you come across an adverb, take it out and read the sentence to yourself again. Is there an action that could take its place? Does that adverb actually enhance the adjective, or is it just saying more of the same? Adverbs like "obviously" and "slightly" are overused ad nauseum. If it's obvious, you don't need to say it. And slightly has its place, but things either are or aren't something. I'm either verbose, or I'm not verbose - slightly frequently (note adverb) does not make sense.

    That's why they are called rough drafts. Once they are done, you go back through and fix the mistakes and hackneyed words. Congrats on having it almost complete!
     
  4. Iaevich
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    Iaevich Member

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    Thanks guys! I'd thought I'd paste an analogous excerpt here to see what you think...

    (for the purpose of this passage, Joshua is the ugly creature). I would tentatively say this is typical of my writing.

    Joshua jumped to the other side and threw his book to the ground, before sliding the rusty iron bolt away from the grey door. It fell to the ground with a clanging crash. The ugly creature grimaced at the noise, but then tugged at the solid looking ring fixed to the middle of the frame and heaved against the metal lattice. The door swayed ponderously for a moment, before swinging very slowly open.
     
  5. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I think adverbs are no better or worse than any other aspect of writing, and have their uses. I've never understood the people who froth at the mouth when coming upon one; they can definitely be overused (and I know I overuse them, myself), but they have a place.

    I see only three adverbs near the end of your sample here (ponderously, very, slowly). That's not very many at all, IMO. Though you might want to vary where they appear so they aren't so obvious; maybe something like:

    The door swayed ponderously for a moment, before very slowly swinging open.

    Note that I moved the adverbs "very slowly" to be in front of the verb rather than after it? That can help sometimes, at least in my opinion.
     
  6. DrJoe
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    DrJoe Member

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    Don't overuse one particular adverb is my personal rule. JK Rowling seemed to like to use the words "grimly" and "gingerly" almost every paragraph to describe her characters' dialog. Absolutely ridiculous.
     
  7. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think you have to be aware that adverbs can be your friend or your enemy. And so can adjectives.

    One of the ways to look at adverbs or adjectives is from the perspective of the reader. "clanging crash", for instance, when talking of an "iron bolt" may strike some readers as excessive, since they are probably well capable of taking plain old "crash" and "iron" and figuring out what such an event would sound like.

    But most of the other examples from your sample would not be much of an issue; except if the sentence is full of descriptives. The "grey door" sentence, for instance, has a large number of descriptive words: "rusty iron bolt away from the grey door", and so the "grey" may strike some people as off.

    Another way to look at things is importance. In the sentence I quoted above, it's hard to tell what is the most important thing, because you've given specific attention to both things. So you could look at it like a sliding scale. Does it really matter if the dorr is grey, and if it does, does it matter more than that there's a rusty iron bolt? Which description seems stronger? There are a lot of factors involved, and one of the easiest ways to improve is practice.
     
  8. TheAdlerian
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    TheAdlerian Senior Member

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    I disagree with you statements about the use of "slightly" to describe people. People can become verbose at times, and it's usually triggered by something. The same goes for all behavior unless that behavior is a major part of their personality.
     
  9. Kylie
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    Kylie Contributing Member

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    I think that when adverbs are used well, they can be very beneficial. They are very useful for descriptions and etc. It also depends on whether or not the adverb is necessary. Some authors tend to use an adverb over and over again; maybe it becomes a habit?
     
  10. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ...yes, more or less...

    ...probably...

    ...a major drawback for one who wants to be a writer... best correct that now... you'll find that reading the best works of the best writers in the medium and genre you want to write is the best way to find out what sets good writing apart from its opposite... compare a page of your work to one of the best and you'll easily see the difference...

    ...not really, unless you're reading the work of successful and acknowledged 'fine' writers, and not stuff by other beginners, or how-to's by self-touted 'experts'...

    ...yuck!...

    ...not really... it's still yucky, imo, but does begin to illustrate the 'show, don't tell' axiom... trouble with that is 1. you can't 'sigh' words... and 2. you're still 'telling' with that adverb still in use, though now transformed into an adjective... instead of 'telling' us it's 'theatrical' SHOW us how it is...

    "Dialogue!" Joshua heaved a mighty sigh, eyebrows raised to the rafters, a pencil-wielding hand inscribing circles in the air.

    ...now it's a visual image of 'theatrical' and not just 'telling' us it is such and leaving us to have to imagine what it looks like for ourselves... it's admittedly a bit overwritten, but just done for effect, in making the point we're dealing with here...

    ...i'd say, yes, but not to the point of not using them when they're called for...

    ...de nada!...

    hope that's helpful...

    love and hugs, maia
     
  11. Scattercat
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    Scattercat Active Member

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    While I admit to overusing adverbs, I, at least, find them to be an enjoyable part of speech, and rarely complain if I read them unless there are so many that the meaning of the sentence becomes unclear. Ciavyn likes to remove them wherever possible; oftentimes his suggested versions seem to me like the denuded branches of a tree in winter, barren and stark. Conversely, what I might call thin or Hemingway-esque, he might see as pure and clean in its simplicity.

    ---

    I think it's interesting that generally when people are saying "delete adverbs" and "show, don't tell," what they often do is replace adverbs with adverb phrases. This is often a worthwhile pursuit, but sometimes, as in mammamaia's example, it doesn't do a lot. I think your second version is the best of the three; the last one seems far too wordy to me.

    And that's really what adverbs are best at; trimming down extended phrases to shorter descriptions, so that when "he mumbled, scratching his head in dismay and shuffling his feet" is just too long you can use "he mumbled awkwardly." It's all going to depend on context, however; there's no hard and fast rule for how many adverbs would be too many or too few, and every writer will have a different style anyway.
     
  12. Iaevich
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    Iaevich Member

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    Thanks guys - really appreciate all of the responses. I think the main thing that I've realised is that I don't significantly differentiate in the quality of my two examples. I agree with Scattercat inasmuch as I prefer the use of the word "theatrically" within the context of a twirling pencil rather than maia's description (although I appreciate the point made). I hope that this is just a question of subjective appreciation as opposed to a hard and fast rule, because if it's the later I think my book will fall down! By way of example, I never had a problem with JK Rowling's use of adverbs...

    We'll have to see. I think it is sometimes difficult to analyse these passages in isolation, so I'll just have to finish the book, make some edits and then find out what people think. Thanks again!
     
  13. ciavyn
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    ciavyn Senior Member

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    Scatter has a point - adverb phrases, similar to what Mamma pointed out in her post, aren't any more helpful, and her rewording was an entertaining change. And I do lean towards a cleaner form a writing, probably because I stink so much at it! =) It's a challenge for myself when I rewrite to view each action word, each description, and see if there is a cleaner, clearer way to say it.

    I do think that we sometimes use adverbs to avoid writing. (I can feel the rotten tomatoes coming my way.) There are times when they are useful - Lord knows, I use them. But there are also times when it is easier to say that something is moving slowly, than to take the time to think about what it sounds like as it crawls across the road - is the road rough and gravelly? Is it smooth? Is it grass? What does the thing look like? Can you compare it to something? When you walk in the world of metaphors and similes, it forces you to really tighten up your writing, or else it sounds trite.

    So use your adverbs! But then go back and see what small elements you might be missing out on, and see if there is another way to really draw the reader in. Good luck!
     
  14. Iaevich
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    Iaevich Member

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    Thanks ciavyn! That's raised another useful point, because my writing certainly has its fair share of metaphors or similes already. Perhaps within the context of a few paragraphs on either side, and written dialogue it will all be seen to flow a lot more...

    Crucial goal is to finish the book though and then tighten it up on the edit. I've only got about 6000 words to write, but motivating myself to do it is so difficult!
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The overuse of adverbs is sometimes called "Tom Swifting." If you have ever read one of these staples of teen literature, you'll understand.

    "Tom, it worked like a charm," Bud exclaimed excitedly.

    Try to get your hands on one from your local library.
     
  16. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    I would say that adverbs are like salt in a cooking dish....USE SPARINGLY.
    I've made a conscious effort to use very little of them in my story, letting verbs to the job for me, so I get a lot of "walking" "talking" "looking" "thinking" etc etc along wtih descriptors then the "quickly" etc etc.

    try to keep them in a sparing usage.
     
  17. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    sorry I know this is an old thread but I can't help but to suggest:

    before swinging very slowly open.

    to

    before swaying open.
     
  18. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    Huh?

    Those aren't really the same at all...how does a door sway? They're solid, heavy, and rigid, none of which make them conducive to swaying.
     
  19. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    sorry, but i can't get what you mean there... neither is a coherent sentence, nor even a phrase that makes any sense...
     
  20. Colonel Marksman
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    Colonel Marksman Member

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    It also depends on the adverb. I'm a firm believer in avoiding adverbs and adjectives, but I don't shun them out completely.

    It's mainly because adverbs we normally use are common and don't give us a very good image, and we forget that our readers can't read our minds, only what we put on the paper.


    But a lot of people here seem to not exactly understand why. It's because we are writing prose, not poetry. You don't want to focus your detailing explanation on objects. Readers aren't going to care about the 12 wonderful words you use to describe a sofa that's not relevant to the story. Trust me, they will forget about that sofa two or three pages later. Why? Because they are reading about characters' actions and reactions--motion--action.

    That's why tehuti88's example worked so well. Adjectives weren't the main focus, because he's using adjectives to help more easily and quickly describe an action that is happening, instead of slowing it down. It helps create the tension and keeps focus on the verbs and nouns.

    When you use too many adjectives and adverbs, if you look over your work, you might find a lot of tiresome descriptions about objects or items that aren't even part of the story. This leads into, "strong writing", which is "tight writing", which includes, "trimming the excess."

    Clear and exact adjectives and adverbs are always welcome when they can be used to help more quickly clarify a better flow for the story.


    All these "rules" for writing are there for a reason. They maintain a good rule of thumb to follow, and none of them is wrong in any sense... most writers who try to write How-to's just fail to explain them.
     
  21. tonten
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    tonten Senior Member

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    oh wait blah, it would have helped if I actually read the previous sentences. I was just scanning for adverbs to get rid of heh. Nevermind.
     

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