Wednesday, April 1, 2015

A is for Adverbs

Welcome to my blog and this year's attempt at the wonderful A to Z blog challenge. I've taken part in the challenge for several years, though not always with this blog, but I'm happy to be back to the writing topics this year (though I do need to pick up my book reading pace once again). On this blog, as I have 2 in the challenge, I am going to be posting on the technical side of writing as I'm also in the process of doing a final edit before I take the leap into the unknown land of submitting to agents.

Check out other blogs in the challenge here:

A is for Adverbs

I went with a rather obvious first post of the month and A topic. It's something I come across quite often as a reader on a writing site I help moderate and it's a part of writing that I'm well aware of during edits. I don't write a ton of the -ly adverbs myself from years of having them on the back of my mind as something to avoid overusing, but I do find even then, since I do fast first drafts like NaNoWriMo, there are some that need cut out for every edit.

First: What is an adverb?
- a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc.

Now, to be clear, I always mention when I comment on someone's adverb usage that it's not a case of never. I know that adverbs have their place in writing and one doesn't need to cut them all out in order to have a good draft/story. However, I find in the unpublished, less edited short fiction that I read often times does tend to use them to a large degree. For me, a short story (under 10,000 words) and in particular flash fiction (under  1,000 words) shouldn't have as many or more adverbs than several novel chapters. If the story is 700 words, there is a limit to where the amount of -ly and such can become glaring and drags down the writing instead of doing the job of modifying the way the writer is wanting. I'm talking 20-40 of them withing the parameter of a flash fiction. That's just too many (yes, just is one of my weak points in writing but I'll get there probably on W or J day). So, I'm an advocate of caution, limiting adverb usage and knowing how the words are helping or hindering a story.

Why limit adverbs?

Here are a few of the main reasons I've seen over the years while doing research and writing:
1. Weakens writing
2. Amateur
3. Show versus Tell

Let's start with number 2. Often times, a large abundence of adverbs in a story will imply to the reader that the person doing the writing is an amateur, someone who is still a beginner to the process. This is in part due to the other factors, having less experience to know whether or not the many ones used weakened the writing or if they had a strong enough purpose to provide to the story. And, based on my experience, the newer writer does tend to rely on the -ly a little more, though some people will still cling to their adverbs after many years of writing if they don't want to work on that aspect of their skills.

Number 1 and 3 are close together. I've heard the weak word explanation the most but the show versus tell can be tricky at times for some writers, so it's not surprising that is a factor too. From what I've noticed, often times the writer is trying to create a certain mood or show something in particular about the character or action by the use of the -ly. However, the result on the other side, as the reader is that it does part way do what the writer intended but not in the best way possible. I also have found that the non-ly adverbs are often words associated as "weak words" and are ones I have to work on in edits (words like just, sometimes, very, etc.) while others get us to number 3 more. The -ly action at times, like trying to show how a character is reacting, can either be great or actually make the sentence more of a tell instead of a show.

Either way, it's a matter of finding balance and knowing when to cut down. Some adverbs are great and the modification to the sentence can be handy. Other times, they will become overdone and bring the story down instead of offering the proper nail in the support beam. Learning when to use one and when to cut, that takes time and practice.

Other sources:

What are your thoughts on adverbs? Do you cut some out in edits?


Anonymous said...

Yes, one of my weaknesses. I was glad to see this here. Lots of useful information. I look forward to seeing more through the A to Z.

Bob Sanchez said...

I try to keep adverbs to a minimum, but don't try to eliminate them entirely. They're useful in moderation, just like other parts of speech.