♦Welcome to another edition of the Open Book Blog Hop!♦
Are adverbs really the devil? If they sneak in occasionally,
does it mean the writer is lazy?
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The tastemakers who decide what makes good–writing are also those in control of what is published. However, writing is subjective. It’s an art. One could argue all day that there is an expectation and a structure that all writers must follow, but that simply ignores writing is done with language and language is forever evolving.
Passive voice, adverbs, drawn out descriptions, weird names, odd design choices, clipart covers–there are so many things to criticize. New writers are inundated with advice about what can make them a success. The problem is, much of the advice comes from who could be characterized as mediocre authors. Certainly, you do hear well-known authors parroting the tastes of the age. Ever hear that tone in their voice when the do though? Boredom. They are asked for their formula a lot! What worked for them is no guarantee of success for anyone else.
Being bored doesn’t mean that they’re wrong or that the mediocre authors are just carrying water for the gatekeepers. What they’re not talking about is the nuance that can actually help another author perfect their craft. It’s hard to sit and have a conversation into the weeds, though. How do you sit a new author down and describe to them in detail what they could do to really make their work pop? I mean this sincerely. How do you avoid upsetting them, because their frustration is real? How do you help them understand that this matters, but it also may not do a thing to improve their sales, but make them improve on a critical level?
Overuse of adverbs is weak writing. It falls under the category of passive voice. It is not assertive and definite. There are the rare occasions in which an adverb is necessary or unavoidable.
Does the average reader care about all these writing rules? With the success of Twilight and it’s fan-penned 50 Shades, the answer is clearly no. What readers want are stories that compel them on topics they give a damn about. People enjoy genres for a reason: they’re fans.
This still doesn’t say that the opinions around passive voice, and adverbs, and all of that are wrong. Great writing, those books that are here long after their authors pass away, follows the rules close enough to defy time while also attracting the readership.
Did their authors write well according to today’s standards? No. Many did not. Writing like a literary great is not the goal. Literary icons are wordy (Dickens), confusing (Shakespeare), and even mundane (Wolf). What can you do, if not emulate them? These authors are still held in high esteem. Find out why. Don’t just cite: they used adverbs.
The point of not using adverbs is not to never use them, but to be sparing. A writer should think about their sentence this way: can I say it more precisely and concisely? Is there another way to state this that doesn’t waffle on the point or resemble an overgrown garden? Be assertive in your language, not wishy-washy. If there is a better, active word to use instead of anyword-ly? Then use that word instead.
The tastemakers of publishing once fell in love with Hemingway and have not fallen out of that love yet. Part of that is the marketability of the work for other media forms, such as video games and films. If your book isn’t easily adapted, it is harder to sell. Publishing houses now want a multi-media deal to maximize profits. That’s why it seems there’s a book to movie pipeline. Whoever doesn’t read probably watches films, so they can optimize the intellectual property to grab cash from both audiences. The hope is to dip into the well twice, with those members in both camps.
Adverbs are superfluous words. Take any sentence in which you use one, and the chances are you can take it out without loss of meaning or context. In those cases, whatever you wish to express with an adverb better served with other words that are not adverbs. You’ll be more precise. You’ll also be easier to adapt to a script. Short writing is friendly to the conversion.
Additionally, it is important to consider this question: is this descriptive word necessary to the plot? Does it move the story? Does it provide insight into something that does? What is it serving by sitting there? If you answer these questions no and it just looks nice, there is a better way to say what you want. Yes, it is normal to get stuck trying to rephrase. Highlight the text to go over next time you draft. You may pluck it out and place it somewhere separate, like on a piece of paper and hammer it out.
Some writers might think, that’s way too much effort. That’s the point, though. Writing isn’t easy. Writing done well takes skill and effort, just like any other job. Some of us are quicker on the draw than others. Some have innate talent. Don’t sweat it. Practice.
Every new book I pen shows my progress in this art form. It should. I don’t want to come out of the gate writing the greatest novel I can, because I would likely have nothing more to say after. It would be a downhill slide from there. I only wish to write the best story that I can at the time I am writing it; to get my ideas on paper to the best of my current ability; to learn what needs practice and polishing, so my next work can benefit from the process. I wish that readers will enjoy the stories regardless of any of that.
PS – I totally use adverbs (when I need to).
Check out what the other authors have to say about these tricky sentence elements…