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The Rapport

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Welcome to The Raport - a Tuesday gathering place for writers on MFUWSS!
It's a place to plop down for a visit. A place to talk about what you're working on. About how the writing's going. About your accomplishments. About the bumpy bits along the way. Share a snippet, if you're so inclined!

The coffee's ready. Grab a mug. Let's talk:)

February 14, 2017

"I adore adverbs; they are the only qualifications I really much respect."
- Henry James

"The road to hell is paved with adverbs."
- Stephen King

"If you are using an adverb, you are using the wrong verb."
- Kingsley Amis

It's Valentine's Day.  Let's talk about the love-hate relationship writers have with adverbs.

I came across a chapter on adverbs in 'Writing Tools' by Roy Peter Clark.
"Tool 5. Watch those adverbs. Use them to change the meaning of words."

Wait. What? Use them?  So adverbs aren't purely evil?  Whoops. So adverbs aren't evil incarnate?

Clark says, "At their best, adverbs spice up a verb or adjective. At their worst, they express a meaning already contained in it:
The blast completely destroyed the church office.
The cheerleader gyrated wildly before the screaming fans.
The accident totally severed the boy's arm.
The spy peered furtively through the bushes."

In these examples, Clark says we should drop the adverb because it "shortens the sentence, sharpens the point, and creates elbow room for the verb. Feel free to disagree."  I agree with Clark's advice to drop those adverbs, but I like that he allows the writer the freedom to choose.

A second fix is to find a better verb. Clark says, "How much better that "the audience pattered applause" than that it "applauded politely."

Clark shows us how adverbs can be a good thing - when they change the meaning of the verb. "To understand the difference between a good adverb and a bad adverb, consider these two sentences: "She smiled happily" and "She smiled sadly." Which one works best? The first seems weak because "smiled" contains the meaning of "happily." On the other hand, "sadly" changes the meaning."

Finally, Clark talks about attributes used by J.K. Rowling, who loves adverbs:
"said Hermione timidly."
"said Hermione faintly."
'he said simply."
"said Hagrid grumpily."
"said Hagrid irritably."

Oh boy. Attributes. That's a topic in itself.

Clarks' final advice? "If you want more money than the Queen of England, maybe you should use more adverbs. If your aspirations, like mine, are more modest, use them sparingly."

Are you an ever-vigilant scrubber of adverbs? When do you use them?

What have you been working on this week?  How's the writing going?  Feel free to share a snippet!
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I love to play with adverbs. My first drafts are littered with them. When I'm on a roll and need to plow through whatever brain fart compelled me to sit down and write, I have learned to not stop and think about finding strong verbs instead of propping up all those weak verbs with adverbs. If I'm constipated, I love to use my writing time to seek out and destroy adverbs. Tinker around, finding vivid verbs. It's fun!

Still working on the WIP this week. I have been jotting down how much time I'm actively working at my desk on the story. Sigh. Nowhere close to an hour a day. I put in only 15 minutes on three evenings. What have I been doing in the morning instead of writing? Maybe I should start tracking that instead. I'm pathetic! I think I'll talk about procrastination next week:)

Pathetically procrastinating!

Sorry, couldn't help myself...
Between pathetically procrastinating and inactively working it's no wonder I don't get much done:) *g*
Stop playing with the submarine! Destroying adverbs is much more fun :)

It's amazing how easy it is to piddle away the time isn't it? I have such a hard time writing in the evening (unless I'm trying to meet a deadline), I really need to do it in the mornings.

I don't try in the evenings - I get too tired to produce anything coherent :0)

Lunchtimes and weekends work best for me.

If I'm feeling creative in the evenings I plot plots or fiddle with arty/visual things.

(Or prattle on on-line!)
Stop playing with the submarine! It's your fault! You asked if it would float!

My mornings have been consumed lately by RL errands and appointments, and by the time I get home from school all I want to do is read news on my phone. I'm ready to lock my phone in the safe and make R take the key.

Well, horses for courses :0)

If you want pithy writing, perhaps redundant adverbs are not your best choice, but repetition reinforces - and poetry loses much of its lyricism (if you like that kind of thing) without it. Of course poetry doesn't have to be lyrical. Or rhyme.

And too many ly's can read ridiculously, to wit;

s/he said laughingly
s/he replied wincingly
s/he retorted spitefully

But adverbs were invented to modify a verb and sometimes shading is a good thing. Verbs are strong colours, adverbs lighten and darken the tone. So sometimes 'yellow' is a better choice than 'purple', but sometimes 'lilac' is just right.

I don't believe in rules for writing. Even grammatical ones. I think you should learn them, as a pianist learns their finger exercises or a dancer their steps. But that is the foundation, not the artistry.

Does anyone really want 'to go boldly where no one has been before' ? Or discover 'there isn't anyone here but we chickens'?

In my opinion, the proof of the pudding is in the reading. If it was wonderful, then that's all that counts.

As for my own poor scribblings, I have tinkered with some MFU, dabbled with some Pros and hope to be sufficiently compost menthol to rack up a few productive hours this weekend - which in turn may lead to actual posting...Good Golly!
I think it's like many rules; you can break them successfully once you've learned them. But for beginning authors, at least thinking about minimizing adverbs is a good guideline because it's so easy to over-write (she says from personal experience :D)

I find either reading aloud myself, or getting pdf to do it for me helps - whatever it is, if it sounds all wrong - it probably is!

If often wonder if it's cultural - do your native speech patterns predispose you to particular transgressions?
I think you should learn them, as a pianist learns their finger exercises or a dancer their steps. But that is the foundation, not the artistry.

Well put! I like Clark's advice that adverbs are not to be banned, and that whatever the rule, the writer should feel free to disagree.
Forgot to wish you good luck with the writing this weekend. I have my fingers crossed that you'll have a snippet for us!


February 14 2017, 18:12:04 UTC 1 month ago Edited:  February 14 2017, 18:16:59 UTC

Isn't it a contradiction in terms to state "I use adverbs sparingly"? :-)

All those "Every time you use an adverb or an adjective, God kills a kitten" quotes are clever, but they're just quips. Every one of those writers uses adverbs. Adverbs and adjectives are no different from other words - any other word. Use it as needed. Judging that, of course, is the trick. If I had a dime for every redundancy I've rubbed out of people's writing, I'd never have to work another day. People need to examine their writing for what I call weight-bearing words. Is that word doing something? Is it doing something another word is already doing (usually this is the problem with adverbs and adjectives)? Get the hell rid of it.

That's why adverbs and adjectives come under the gun; like a story with a girl character, adverbs and adjectives are born suspect - if "Adverb Sue" is even faintly noticeable, she's instantly a bad guy. This is not right. Some adverbs make the verb sing, make the sentence dance. Not the example presented above, in my view - I think "the audience pattered applause" sucks as a sentence - but, y'know, "Up the airy mountain, down the rushy glen, we dare not go a-huntin', for fear of little men." As Elements of Style points out, if the mountain were not airy, the glen not rushy, that little couplet would just lie there (of course in this case there's the issue of meter, but we'll let that go).

Personally, I generally prefer "Fuck you!" he spat to "Fuck you!" he sneered derisively. Edit to add: My point here being it's more important to select the right verb than to paint on an adverb to pretty it up.

That does not mean a well-placed adverb or adjective doesn't add value. Just weigh them. Be sure they're doing something, illustrating some shade of color or emotion or even just making the sentence roll elegantly, like a canoe on a calm river.

Think about the words you use. All of them, not just the adverbs.

I quite like the grammar ones like - I love cooking my dogs and my family.

To be honest, I've never had a run-in with the adverb police. I didn't even know they were a thing. It was never a thing at school and still doesn't seem to be - going by the proudly presented homework various young folk bring out when I go a-visiting. It's more a thing to practice adverbs, lists of them so you'll recognise them and where they belong in a sentence. And later you put them in your creative writing to enliven it.

And I winced at pattered applause - it doesn't sound like a native English construction, more as if it was constructed by a non-native speaker. But then I'm British, everything sounds better if it's done politely.

Still, you can have too much of a good thing. I was always taught never to repeat a word within eight. Don't know if anyone else was, but it's good rule of thumb.

And you can definitely have a surfeit of -ly endings, no matter how perfectly chosen the words.

Still, I think on balance, I'll keep them and lose the commas (my personal bête noire!).

Isn't it a contradiction in terms to state "I use adverbs sparingly"? :-)
I'm sure Clark intentionally ended this chapter with an adverb! Hee!

it's more important to select the right verb than to paint on an adverb to pretty it up.

I don't know whether Stephen King uses any adverbs, but it doesn't sound as though he does.
Personally, I'd rather keep learning to weed out the 'she shouted loudly's and find my way to airy mountains and rushy glens.

Yeah, but I think I'd enjoy 'she shouted quietly'!
It's hard to pare down the adverbs. I'm like you, in the first draft they're all over the place, then comes the pruning and looking for a better verb.

I do want to note that I prune radically when it comes to attributes: he said calmly, she said decisively etc. I use them in drafts as a guideline to what the conversation is supposed to be doing. Once I edit, I try to find sharper dialogue that will make the meaning/emotional state clear.
I really believe that if I get the dialogue/mood right, I can trust the reader to read between the lines and know what's going on.

Trusting the reader to "get it" is actually something it took me a while to learn (and it's where a good editor or beta helps a lot). I think it makes the reading experience more enjoyable too, when you're not spoonfed your reactions.

I think cutting down on adverbs is good writing advice, particularly when you're starting and haven't really developed your own style. It makes you think more about how you're using language. But it's not always the right advice. Sometimes there's a need for emphasis, maybe for the rhythm of the sentence, maybe for another reason and you shouldn't be afraid of piling on in that case. Just please don't do it all the time :)

I'm still piddling rather than writing seriously. Getting a late start in the mornings, which is my prime writing time. I plan to do better ;)

We had a really interesting discussion over at Pros about trusting the reader to "get it", not sure if you saw that. It was in connection with a story and under the guise of 'show not tell'.

As a reader, I much prefer that. Even if sometimes a word or phrase trips me up and I have to read it again. Happens sometimes, especially with American emphasis (and the odd word) - I take an entirely unintended meaning for half a paragraph and then realise my error.

'Pissed' is one that fools me less often these days - My instincts are less immediately disposed to run away with the idea that our hero is drunk for the next six lines!

But some folk prefer the road map. To have it spelled out. Luckily, unlike the commercial world, fanfic caters for all tastes.
Trusting the reader to "get it" is actually something it took me a while to learn (and it's where a good editor or beta helps a lot). I think it makes the reading experience more enjoyable too, when you're not spoonfed your reactions.

As an editor I've had this conversation a lot, particularly with new authors who don't quite trust their storytelling. Had a conversation in HP about it, too, years ago, here if you or anyone might be curious. It's interesting that some people apparently do prefer things more spelled out.

Autism is one reason people prefer to have things spelled out, it can be extremely hard work for someone with autism to read the between the lines - and who wants to work that hard to chill with a fav fic?

Which is why I think there's a place for all styles, because readers are not one homogenous mass. We all come to fic with different preferences and expectations.

I'll check out the HP link when I get back from work, the spell it out/leave it to be inferred debate is always intriguing.


February 16 2017, 15:27:27 UTC 1 month ago Edited:  February 16 2017, 16:33:10 UTC

Learning to examine every word, to prune, to search for better words is worth the effort. I love reading stories that fill me with emotion and reaction but don't tell me what to feel and think.

I think Clark's advice is good. Adverbs are not bad - if they're good:) And we should feel free to disagree.

When I was in elementary school we were taught to use a lot of adjectives and adverbs, that it meant we were creative. The more, the better.