Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Authors: ADverbs often SUBTRACT from your writing-The First 5

If you were expecting more commentary on working with young writers, I apologize for today's post, which acts much as an aside does in a script. I'll return to the young writers theme next Authors blog.

Consider the following five sentences. Adverbs are highlighted in yellow.
1.        Suddenly, a bomb went off.
2.        After a long day’s work, she hungrily ate her supper.
3.        I actually enjoy writing.
4.       “I just won the lottery!” he said excitedly.
5.        She was listening happily to his story.

Sentences like those above are common in the works of novice writers. Unfortunately, they are common in the works of writers who edit less vigorously than they should.

Why is that?

I do insert adverbs—intentionally and unintentionally—in my first drafts. When I do my first edit, I re-write scenes where the only way a reader might know that something was said “excitedly” is through use of that term. Your story should draw your readers into the minds and moods of your characters.
From time to time during the next two months, I’ll revisit this topic. More than one book I’ve been asked to review has been mired in the pit of excessive adverbs. I lost interest in the stories because there were
       ·      many times when I was told what I already knew or felt.
       ·      other times when the adverb didn’t match what I felt about that scene in the story.

The five sentences above are reprised below. Following each sentence is an explanation of why the highlighted adverb isn’t needed along with a possible revision.

Suddenly, a bomb went off.
One characteristic of a bomb is exploding without warning. Suddenly is redundant in this situation. Any event that surprises a character is sudden. Avoid redundant adverbs.

A revision. The bomb exploded. Shrapnel followed the sound wave in a devastating reminder of the power of C4.

After a long day’s work, she hungrily ate her supper.
I’m usually hungry when I start to eat. The adverb isn’t necessary. While it’s possible for someone picking at their food while eating, a hungry worker isn’t one of those individuals.

A revision. She didn't realize how hungry she was until she found herself reaching for seconds before the others had finished their first servings.

I actually enjoy writing.
At least that’s better than pretending to enjoy writing. Actually and literally are abused terms. If something exists, it is actual. If something happens, it is literal. The adverbs shouldn’t be necessary. If the scene is well written, the adverbs are not necessary.

A revision. The time I spend writing is the most enjoyable part of my day.

“I just won the lottery!” he said excitedly.
Duh. I know it’s tempting to include descriptors like excitedly. As I said above, the scene itself should trigger emotions like excitement, happiness, and sadness in your reader without the need for adverbs.

A revision. His eyes widened and his pulse began to race as he looked at his lotto ticket before shouting, “I just won the lottery!”

She was listening happily to his story.   
I can’t tell if my ears are happy or sad. I have been happy to hear some information. I’ve heard happy news. I cannot recall listening happily.

A revision. The story was funny. She smiled first, then laughed out loud.

If your stories don’t draw your readers in, adding adverbs subtracts from even more from those stories.

Next time I’ll comment on these sentences.
6.        “Move it, buddy. You’re blocking the hallway,” he said irritably.
7.        I guess I wasn’t truly invisible to the crowd.
8.        “I think we’re lost,” he said worriedly.
9.        The oxygen level in the cabin was dropping. She searched frantically for another canister to install.

10.    The car gave a jolt and I was nearly thrown against the window.

Next Author’s Blog will rejoin my series on Lessons Learned By And From Young Authors.

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Email me at: chuckdowningauthor@gmail.com

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