Monday, September 24, 2018

#Writing Tip. ADverbs often SUBTRACT from your writing - numbers 11-15

Back in the day, a fad swept at least my part of America. Known as Tom Swifties, each is "a play on words taking the form of a quotation ascribed to Tom and followed by an adverb. Here's a good example:

The thermostat is set too high," said Tom heatedly. 

The blue text is quoted from Used in this manner, adverbs are an art form, particularly for those who love to pun.

There are times and places in your writing when an adverb does ADd to your story.
Most of the time, rather than adding what an author thinks they add, adverbs SUBTRACT from the storyline, distract readers, and might insult readers, too.

I'll be looking at the negatives of adverbs for four blogs in a row. Week four will close the door on adverbs with examples that I feel completely help the sentence.

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

11.     The prisoner’s hands were clamped tightly to the bars of his cell.
       12.    The bicyclist pedaled carefully across the slightly bumpy road.
       13.    The teacher looked sharply at her students.
       14.    He laughed cheerily and looked at his watch.
There are only four sentences in this group.
Nevertheless, thanks to sentence #12, I've cleverly managed to end up with 15 adverbs in total to critique in the three posts on this topic, as advertized.

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 four: a Possible rewrite. 


The prisoner’s hands were clamped tightly to the bars of his cell.
By definition, clamp--hold (something) tightly against or in another thing (Google)--is to apply pressure on something to hold it in place. Hold it tight. Clamping tightly is like swimming wetly. It's hard to know how to rewrite this quote without knowing the setting. Did the prisoner just learn of his/her execution date? Was the inmate in the next cell part of the reason this prisoner was incarcerated? 

Possible rewrite: The prisoner's hands gripped the bars with such force that the guard was certain the inmate's fingerprints were imprinted in the metal.

The bicyclist pedaled carefully across the slightly bumpy road.
Double whammy here--two adverbs in the same sentence. I've had some trauma on bicycles. Once the front wheel came off and I was launched over the handlebars as the front fork stabbed the ground. I do know that pedaling is an up-and-down motion. A rider might need to be careful about getting trousers caught in the chain while pedaling. 
How bumpy is bumpy? Is slightly bumpy more or less bumpy than rough? or uneven? Is it more bumpy than rutted

Possible rewriteThe bicyclist jerked the handlebars first left, then right to avoid potholes and rocks as he pedaled across the empty field.

The teacher looked sharply at her students
I taught high school for 31 years and university classes for 13 more. I've looked at students in many ways. I've spoken sharply. I've looked "sharp"--as in dress--on occasion. 
I don't recall daggers or arrows shooting from my eyes at any time.

Possible rewriteTired of all the time wasting by her class, the teacher gave each of the biggest offenders her best "teacher look."

He laughed cheerily and looked at his watch.
It was not my intention to end this series with this example. It is, however, a good one to close the adverb loop. Of all the adverbs criticized in this series, this case is the easiest to justify leaving in the sentence. Maybe.
Cynical laughter and hollow laughter are never cheerful. I contend that if the reader doesn't know that the laughing character is cheery, the author needs to re-write the scene. 

Possible rewriteWhen his dinner partner finished telling her joke, he laughed before looking at his watch. 

Give yourself a shot at rewriting one or more of these. 
  • First, think of the situation.
  • Then write without an adverb. 

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

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Sunday, September 16, 2018

Almanac. Best Day of My Life

If you ask 100 people this question, 
“What was the best day of your life?” 

There are regular life answers.
The day I met my husband/wife.
My wedding day!
The day that my daughter/son was born.
The day that my granddaughter/grandson was born.
The day we adopted our son/daughter.
When we closed escrow on our new house.
When I was on <game show> and won <prize>.
When I met <fill in name of person>.
The day I won the lottery.

There are religious answers
The day I accepted Jesus.
The day I was baptized.
The day I celebrated my first communion.
The day of my bar/bat mitzvah.

If I had a list . . .
    §  Six off the regular life list
    §  Two off the religious answers list

Junior High.
    §  Setting two school records (one is still the record) in track and field.
    §  Pitching a perfect game in Pony League.
High School
    §  Helping the football team win its first league game after going 0-39.
    §  Being named co-valedictorian
Teaching Career
    §  Co-Teacher of the Year for San Diego County
    §  California’s winner of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science 
    §  Having former students travel from as far as Chicago to come to my
              retirement party in San Diego.
     I have one outlier. The day my granddaughter was released from NICU after spending 60 days inside.

Your answer may or may not be on any of these lists. There are scores of other possible answers.

Those are all excellent answers.
They are worth remembering.

But, are they really the best day of someone’s life?

For some people that is the case as far as their life experience goes. Those are the best days of their lives.
I feel sorry for those people.

Don't get me wrong. Look at the two sentences in red above.
I rejoice with each person who shares those memories with me.
I’ve experienced nearly all of those days.
I don’t think that any one of them has been the best day of my life.

There’s a bumper sticker I’ve seen many times. It’s some iteration these posters attributed to Bil Keane.

Hold that thought.

How do you answer this question?
“How you doing?”

My most frequent response is, “I’m doing well.”
“I’m doing good” implies you are serving others in some way; “doing well” makes it personal.

I’m trying to train myself to change my answer.
I want to say, “Best day of my life!”

I know what some of you are thinking.
WAIT! Didn’t you say that you’d experienced many of the first list days? How can today be the best? You don’t know what’s going to happen!”

It doesn’t matter what happens.
Today is the only day I have. It’s the only day you have.
Consecutive todays are what we call life, what Bil Keane calls a present.
When we live our last today, our life on Earth is over.

No matter where you are . . .
No matter what you do for a living . . .
No matter how much or how little money you have . . .
If you are powerful, in prison, or a slave . . .
You have 24-hours in today as your present.
That’s 60-minutes, 1,440-seconds.
Once a second passes, it’s not yours anymore. You will never get a chance to live it over.

I am not a philosopher. I avoided taking philosophy at SDSU by choosing the Bachelor of Science and not the Bachelor of Arts degree.

I write stories in which people travel along the fabric of time. One time-travel aficionado had this to say about my time travel mechanism.

“Time is described as a fabric which consists of interweaving threads and which can fold over itself. Time can also be considered as a pool, which suffers ripples. Such imagery is used fully and allows for some wonderful reasoning behind why (and how) characters travel in time. It's one of the best descriptors of time that I've read and is definitely the high point of this collection!” Paul Wandason on

That’s all imaginary. 
Remember, we each get one shot 
at each second of our lives.

Earlier in this post, I admonished you to hold your thought about Bil Keane’s saying.
It’s time to tell you why.

As of the day I'm writing this, I've lived over 68.5 years. I'm into my 25,o32 day to be more precise.
I remember a lot of my “history,” although not as much as I used to. Many of you reading this are key pieces in that history.
I have hopes and plans for my “mystery.” Not only for me, but for my wife, sons, and granddaughters.

I vow to live my “gift from God” to the best of my ability each day.

Vowing to do something is far easier than doing that thing. 
I'm still working on making "The Best Day of My Life" the answer to "How are you doing?"

However, this is my prayer
God, grant me the insight and discernment to do my best for You as I live each present you give me!

This is the day Yahweh has made.
Let’s rejoice and be glad today!

Psalm 118:24 Names of God Bible (NOG)

The next Almanac is two weeks from today. 

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