Give me back my adverbs!

Apparently one (of the many) signs that a manuscript is the work of a debut novelist in the liberal use of adverbs. Those fabulous words that end in ‘ly’ – angrily, lazily, happily, quickly, easily, wistfully, loudly – you get the picture.

By rights we need to pare their use way way back. Use the action in the scene to replace the adverb, if someone strides across the room to slap someone’s face, you don’t need the word quickly, it’s kinda obvious by what is going on.

And while there are no hard and fast rules, in our Refine Your Novel course we’ve been told that it is not uncommon to be advised to restrict yourself to four adverbs per manuscript – 4 per 80,000 words! Now the point is to get us thinking about our word choices of course, not to play policeman on our manuscripts.

So I am 9000 words into the redraft and periodically find myself coming to a screaming halt as I’ve thrown in yet another adverb. I’m writing a small piece of a larger scene where one character hands another a rare comic. It’s a small gesture in the larger scene but of course I want it to convey the respect and reverence for the precious object. He handed it gingerly, reverently arrrrrrr! I WILL not say He gave! And then I look back at the 21 words in the short para I’ve written leading up to this adverb dilemma and realise I’ve alread used two adverbs in those 21 words! This is obviously something I need to look at more closely!

Angrily, lamentably, brazenly, laughingly signing off 🙂

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5 responses to “Give me back my adverbs!

  1. Oh dear. Hmm. Yeah, something to note for me too. Though, this is why I prefer using words *other* than said…..

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    • I sense a spirit of rebellion 🙂 I guess it’s all a guide to making sure we make our choices for a reason rather than because it’s the easiest. I will definitely have more than 4 in the finished manuscript, I’ll just make sure the ones that make the cut earn their space

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  2. I was going to write a comment on adverbs, but it would have been one of those ridiculously long blog comments that I try to avoid, so instead I ranted a bit over at my blog: http://u-town.com/collins/?p=5415.

    (Out of curiosity, I did go and check the beginning of my last story, and there was one adverb, modifying an adjective. I’m leaving it there. 🙂 )

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    • I enjoyed your rant, and who would ever presume to edit Henry James 🙂 the take away from the adverb theory and also your rant is to make conscious word choices. Use adverbs, modifiers break all the rules, but from a position of strength rather than carelessness. Always value your comments

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      • I think “position of strength” really nails it. Over-explaining in stories and movies always feels like insecurity, whether it’s too many adjectives and adverbs, or extra flashbacks to make sure the audience Gets The Point of a particular scene. Confident storytellers don’t do that.

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