Friday, 28 December 2012

Writing tips: Adverbs

  Adverbs are poisonous little creatures related to arachnids. They sneak into your prose, multiply and choke out literary thought, forcing readers to listen to the narrator rather than feel the narration. In almost every case they can be removed, and should be.

   A lot of self-published fiction available online is adverb-heavy, and it's a shame. It weakens what could be interesting, moving stories and makes them unreadable. I sometimes wonder if the prevalence of adverbs has to do with new authors' fears over manuscript length? Don't ever be worried that a story is too short, or will be if you cut out the horde of -ly adverbs. Cutting almost never spoils a story. If you can make a cut and the story remains, you didn't want what you cut.

  "I'm glad to see you," Sally said warmly.

   Why use warmly? Or sadly, zestfully, irritably or whatever adverb has latched onto your otherwise faultless prose? Your reader will know from context what mood Sally is in. If they don't, then you need to establish that through dialogue, discription or inference of some sort.

    Even in areas outside dialogue attribution - where adverbs seem to breed by choice - there are few reasons to use them.

    It was summer and the breeze blew fitfully across the mown field.

    Not terrible but not great, either.

    A summer breeze played across the mown field.

   Better.

   Editing for grammar and voice is what will make your work stand out in a sea of poorly edited labors of love. When you edit, do it with an eye to trimming the work. Make it tighter, leaner and more readable.

   Shorter is better.