Tuesday, July 6, 2010

My Doomed Affair With The -ly Adverb,

I'm gonna have to call it quits. No more sweet love affair with my -ly adverbs. It was a sad day when I found out that -ly adverbs were a No-No in the writing world and I wondered how this could be. When did this happen? Who made up this rule anyway?

I lovingly read these adverbs and wonder why anyone would want them gone. Your characters can jump fearlessly, kiss passionately, tell softly, touch gently, run quickly, dance beautifully, walk quietly, yell ferociously, and talk intelligently. So expressively. So elegantly.

But no, we are told to use stronger verbs so that we don't need the adverbs. Let's see, that would make the previous paragraph go something like this:

Your characters can leap, make out, whisper, caress, sprint, waltz, tip toe, bellow, and...and...uh, preach. (I have no idea what to use for 'talk intelligently'.) These verbs are shorter and more descriptive, but I STILL think the -ly words are pretty.

To be fair, I can see the value in the rule. Really, it does make sense. You use an adverb to strengthen a weak verb, so if you have a strong verb, you wouldn't need an adverb. If your verbs are weak, then your action is weak. Use action to liven up your story and connect with your readers.

Dialogue is a huge collector of adverbs and a great place to start hunting for them. So often we tell the action with our adverbs instead of using action tags to let the reader experience the story.

"Put that down," she said harshly.
"Put that down," she bellowed.

"You are so beautiful," he said tenderly.
"You are so beautiful," he said, his fingers trailing down the side of her face.

Now that I see the rule for what it is and how effective it can be, I say let EVERYONE follow the rule. What, you say? There are exceptions to the rule? Oh yes, indeed.

If you are a multi-published, top-selling author, then yes, you can break any and every rule you want to. I won't name names, but these famous authors are allowed liberties in the area of rules. I'm not sure I think that's fair. But then I guess if I was making thousands of dollars on my writing and had editors clamoring for my books, then I could afford to get lazy in my writing. But I'm not, so I will learn the rules...as strict as they may be, and in learning the rules, I will become a better writer.

Join me as we kill the adverb and take on the job of finding excellent action verbs. Happy Hunting!

Have you had a love affair with the -ly adverbs? If so, how did you break it off?



Diane said...

Wow..... harsh! All of those words just completely rejected?!?!? No appeals court for them..... :O)

Krista Phillips said...

Sherrinda is going to hate me today.

In your example, you broke one of the rules I'll talk about on Friday:-) No embellished dialogue tags!

She muttered, He bellowed, she taunted, she smiled, she laughed, all following or preceeding dialogue, aren't great things to use either:-) They are fine (and GOOD!) though if you are using them in a sentence and not as embellished tags.:-) Believe me, I know this, as I got my hand slapped the one time I used it on a Genesis entry, ha!

GEEZ how mean am I!!! (But hush, I didn't make the rule!)

Instead, we are now supposed to use beats in place of dialogue tags, with the occasional he said/she said with no embellishment.

So, your example would go from (depending on whose POV you are in):

"Put that down." Hannah bellowed out the words, then bit her tongue. Yelling at the spoiled-rotten two-year-old would do no good.

Okay, so I'll save the rest of my lecture for Friday as to why this, even though it seems dumb, really is a valuable rule!!

M. Bail said...

Hi Sherrinda - My post today is on exactly the same subject!

Jaime Wright said...

I haven't broken it off yet. I'm still in denial. :P

Sidney W. Frost said...

Great way of saying it. I, too, have had to cut out the -ly adverbs. However, one of your examples ("Put that down," she bellowed.) also points out what I've seen developing as another no-no, that is the use of anything other than said or asked in the attribution of speech. I know many authors use other words, but there seems to be a trend to simplify that too.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Hi Margaret! I saw yours and loved it! How funny that we talked about the same thing! :)

Casey said...

I don't have a bad relationship (or a good one) with LY words, my cancer in my writing is ING words! ARH, I hate having to worry about cutting those. Pout.

But great post. :)

Kaye Dacus said...

"Try to eliminate adverbs" is a wonderful GUIDELINE when writing. However, if we try to make it a hard-and-fast rule---if we try to never use adverbs at all---it can make our writing stilted by forcing us to use unusual verbs we'd never logically use in everyday life. And that can make a reader put a book down in frustration because she keeps tripping over all of these strange, unusual verbs.

Authors and editors are more bothered by adverbs than readers are. Obviously, you don't want to overuse them, just like you don't want to egregiously overuse any word/word type.

But, just like you occasionally need the word WAS to make a sentence work, sometimes, you should just go ahead and use the -ly adverb.

Mary Vee Writer said...

Kaye...thank you sooooooooo much. I hear the "all things in moderation" principle coming through your comment.
I take it Sherrinda and I have your permission to use our "ly" words...as long as we do them in moderation?
Oh Bless Be the Tie that binds :)
I think Sherrinda will make it through another day, thanks to you, Kaye.

Fabulous post Sherrinda...look at the discussion you created! :)

Bess said...

I need to kill some -ly adverbs. Thanks for the warning.

~Britt Mitchell

Jamie D. said...

LOL - I was going to post basically what Kaye said. Adverbs are a part of speech for a reason, and while it's good to show rather than tell *most of the time*...even that rule isn't hard and fast.

It's good to know these guidelines...but it can really kill your voice if you hold to all of them hard and fast. Sometimes you have to just relax, and write. :-)

Kaye Dacus said...

To follow up on what Jamie said, these types of guidelines (try to avoid adverbs and passive language, show don't tell, etc.) are great to keep in mind when you're in the REVISION stage of your manuscript. But nothing will kill the creative impulse faster than trying to "follow the rules" while you're WRITING.

When you're composing your story, writing your first draft, use whatever language you need to use just to get the story down on paper. The creative process is not the time for imposing rules and regulations. Why do you think kids get tired of coloring and put coloring books away? Because they get tired of coloring INSIDE the lines. We all know how hard it is to put the images in our heads into words and get those words onto paper---it's even harder if we're telling ourselves that the way we're trying to express it is wrong.

God gave us the "find all" ability in our word processors so that we can do a search for the letter combination "ly" and highlight it throughout our manuscript AFTER IT'S FINISHED. Then, during the REVISION process, we can go through and see if there's a better word to use than the adverb (God also gave us Roget's Thesaurus for this purpose).

Of course, as I write, there are certain words I highlight (nearly) as I use them (practically) because I know (actually) that I'll need to reword those sentences (slightly) when I go back to do my revision before turning it in. But I still use them (really) as I'm writing, because getting the story down is more important than wasting ten or fifteen minutes stressing out over trying to think of an alternate verb to use.

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Hey...I have comments! I had heard there were blogger issues today with comments and am just now seeing them! And look at what yall are discussing!

Krista!!!! You stinker! I have heard that rule, but I don't like it either. You preach all you want to on Friday, 'kay? I happen to like Kaye and Jaime's comments. Did you happen to read them? They were very kind and supportive. ;) You know I'm messing with you, right? You are right in what you say. I use the action tag most in my writing, but I do use the occasional adverb and the occasional verb with said. Just because I like it and I like to mix it up. Of course, I am not published and a beginner, so what do I know?!


Krista Phillips said...

As a follow-up and ditto of Kaye's comment,

Week before last, the writers alley did a post on following the yellow brick rules-- dispelling the myths and giving some truth about following writing rules in general. (http://thewritersalleys.blogspot.com/2010/06/follow-yellow-brick-rules.html)

We thought a week on the "rules" themselves would be a GREAT follow up, but that does not negate the fact that they are, really, guidelines, and if we focus too MUCH on the rules, it can be hindering.

So, please keep the above post in mind while you read our rules' posts this week.

Also, keep in mind WHY we have the particular rule, which is what we're trying to teach you this week. The rules aren't just for fun, there is a reason for them. Knowing that reason for the rule is one step further to knowing when it is okay to break them.

Krista Phillips said...

LOL! I am CRUSHED Sherrinda... but alas, I will whip you into shape on friday, LOL!!!

And thank you for what??? you cut off there, *grin*

I'm such a brat. I know. I'm youngest of 3 sisters, I come by it honestly!

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Krista, you are a great teacher, you know that? I have to admit to choose this particular rule because I really don't care for it. While researching it, I learned quite a bit and really understand the WHY of the rule. I do wish people (like that Genesis judge) would relax a bit and not be a stickler. ;)

Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

I find it a little strange that no one commented on the silly picture I found of George Clooney! lol Come on, didn't it bring a smile to your face like it did mine?

Krista Phillips said...

Oh, I was going to mention that too, LOL

Yes, I LOVE that picture! I thought it looked familiar but couldn't put my finger on it... good ol' George!

And yes, I laughed and though, "Oh sherrinda, you're hilarious' this morning when I saw it:-)

Pepper said...

Great post, Sherrinda. I love 'ly' s. And after Kaye and Jamie's comments, I thought of the phrase in pirates of the Carribeans, when speaking of the pirates code - "actually, the code is more of what you'd call guidelines, than actual rules" :-)

I'm for that!

Pepper said...

Btw, you and Krista are having WAY too much fun. This is a serious issue ;-)

patti said...

Hey, glad that you broke off a dangerous love affair. Great post!
Sigh. I will have to enter the Krista/Sherrinda "bellowed" dialogue tag debate.

Sometimes the dialogue tags just work.
For: rhythm in a fast-moving scene where you NEED to establish intensity of an action WITHOUT the interruption of the scene.
For: ID of character via the use of the name and a word or two.

To "ban" certain time-proven techniques altogether (I'll name another dangerous area, backstory)is, well, dangerous.



Sherrinda Ketchersid said...

Hi Patti! Great comment! I think what you said is key. It helps to have a variety in the dialogue tags/beats so help it flow. I try to do a variety, giving special attention to the action beat, but I do like the "bellowed" kind.

Thanks for joining the debate!

Kaye Dacus said...

How appropriate is this? Literary Agent Rachelle Gardner just posted this on Twitter:

"I'm noticing many new writers vastly overdoing the 'vibrant verbs.' The verb has to fit the situation. Too much crashing, slamming, etc."

Linda Kage said...

I love my LY words too. They're so hard to let go of, I usually try to sneak in a couple when no one is looking.

One thing I've noticed lately is if I can't find the perfect dialogue tag to cut out an adverb, I can just cut out the tag completely and the line sounds even better without it...that is, of course, if I can tell who's doing the talking.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post.