Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Ten-Point Revision Strategy - #6 Kill Adverbs

This is an easy one.

Kill adverbs.

You've all heard this before. Adverbs are, by and large, an unnecessary aspect of writing. They are the sign of a sloppy writer, too lazy to think of a more creative way to say something. And almost always, they are clumsy.

In an earlier post I mentioned Iris Johanson's use of the phrase, "she nodded her head jerkily," three times in the first sixth of one of her books. As a quick writing exercise, I bet we could all write down three ways that we could convey the same message more elegantly, more clearly, more creatively. Better yet, I bet we could think of three ways that the same information could be conveyed that do a better job of revealing character or moving the story forward with more drama or tension.

Yes, one little phrase can do all that, if we stretch our minds and think creatively.

One place that adverbs tend to creep in is as a dialogue tag. This is a practice we need to stop. People don't shout angrily. They shout. The anger should be conveyed in their choice of words, body language or action. Not with a clumsy tag.

At this point in my revision, all adverbs need to be removed. They served a purpose in the early drafts, holding space, telling me what I wanted to say. But now it's time. I am an adverb hunter. I simply put the search tool on --ly and search them all out and destroy them.

It is almost aways better to replace a weak verb/adverb combination with a stronger verb. Don't have your character walking quickly, have him rush. This conveys a better sense of action and movement.

Now, every once in a while, I'll find one adverb that I'll keep. In one scene, my character the Senator looks directly at the camera. I believe that adverb does reveal information on character and intent; it takes a certain type of person to look directly into the camera, rather than avoid its peering gaze. Besides, it's hard to have someone looking directly at the camera without using the word 'directly.'

But none of my characters will nod jerkily. I promise you that.


Charlotte said...

Great blog, I'm so glad I found it. I'll be back.

Todd D. Severin said...

Thanks, Charlotte. I look forward to your visits and your comments. We can all learn from each other. For my readers, Charlottes page, the Word Strumpet is a great reference also.