Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Authors: ADverbs often SUBTRACT from your writing- numbers 6-10


Consider the following five sentences. Adverbs are highlighted in yellow.

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.

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? Does the sentence above need [vigorously] to convey the thought?

I do often 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 the 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. I've added a feature to these five: a Possible rewrite. 

Enjoy.

“Move it, buddy. You’re blocking the hallway,” he said irritably.
It’s possible to say those two sentences without being irritated at the time of the utterance. It is not probable. The scene in which this dialog appears must take the reader inside the head of the “he” who is speaking. If what comes before this paragraph does not convey the irritation of the speaker, putting “irritably” in won’t do it either [BTW. A Google search returned NO results for the word irritably. That's reason in itself to leave it out!]. Rewrite the scene. Leave the reader wondering how the speaker managed to speak to and not shove the offending hallway blocker.
Possible rewrite: “Move it, buddy. You’re blocking the hallway.” The words trailed the scowling man like the wake of an ocean liner as he shoved his way through the people waiting for the elevator.

I guess I wasn’t truly invisible to the crowd.
I’m trying to imagine a “cloak of false invisibility.” It isn’t working. Invisibility is a toggle switch. Either you ARE invisible or you AREN’T invisible. In this situation, the crowd could see this point.
Possible rewrite: I looked up and was shocked to see at least one hundred pairs of eyes staring at me.

“I think we’re lost,” he said worriedly.
Being lost isn’t the end of the world. It might not even be traumatic for some. For most people, being lost is not something to rejoice over. Being lost implies you knew where you were—and where you wanted to go. Because you’re lost
Some people will wonder where you are.
Other people will think you’ve snubbed them.
I point my finger at how well the scene is set. If the scene is written well, worry will be the reader’s state of mind.
Possible rewrite: I looked at my watch and then the gas gauge before I announced, “We’re late, we’re almost out of gas, and I don’t have a clue where we are.”

The oxygen level in the cabin was dropping. She searched frantically for another canister to install.
I’m in an airplane. I listened to the flight attendant’s safety monolog. I know that it’s not good to be unable to breathe in an airplane. If I’m gasping for air and searching for an oxygen canister, frantically doesn’t come close to describing the way I feel.
Possible rewrite: She inhaled deeper. It didn’t do any good. People around her were blue. Others were unconscious. It was all she could do to keep from screaming as she searched for another canister to install.

The car gave a jolt and I was nearly thrown against the window.
So, you came this close ßà to flying out the window before you didn’t? Were you thrown at the window and the thrower missed the mark?
Think about the movement you are describing. I pitched baseball for over ten years. I never nearly threw a baseball to the catcher. One way to commit a balk in baseball is to feign a throw to a base and not throw the ball. Balking isn’t the same as nearly throwing.
Possible rewrite: The car gave a jolt. If it hadn’t been for my seatbelt, I’d have been thrown against the window. I decided a sore shoulder and chest together weren’t as bad as a broken nose.
Give yourself a shot at rewriting one or more of these. 
  • First, think of the situation.
  • Then write without an adverb. 


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

Next time we’ll look at at least these four adverbly overstuffed examples.
       11.     The prisoner’s hands were clamped tightly to the bars of his cell.
       12.    The bicyclist peddled carefully across the slightly bumpy road.
       13.    The teacher looked sharply at her students.

       14.    He laughed cheerily and looked at his watch.

Next Author’s Blog: Reading to Live . . . longer!


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