Surely You Just (Cheesy, I know)
by Michelle Dwyer
Okay so, I recently received my contest critique for the WOW! Summer 2009 Flash Fiction Contest. Not too shabby I must say. I guess the past critiques have allowed me to refine those blunders called adverbs. Toning down these dust mites (as I now call them), has taken effort. But seeing less green (you know, the highlighted adverbs) in my critique is worth it.
Why was I using adverbs ALL the time? I was addicted to making a point—a point I never had to make.
I thought using “punch” words such as just, always, really, very, and some quantified my thoughts, made them more tangible for the reader to measure. For example, “I just got a request for a partial!” (That hasn’t happened. Just let me have my moment), is no more intense than, “I got a request for a partial!” They express the same joy. The “just” adds no value to the excitement that hopefully one day I will experience.
I took me a while to get it. In my mind, the reader had to know what had just happened, or what simply had to be a certain way. It made the stakes higher. Made those words very, very important, right? No. It just made me look like an amateur.
But I’m hard-headed (really, really hard-headed), so I’m still learning to give up the dust. Sometimes I leave particles in my stories. And guess what? Adverbs in moderation can actually add depth when done right; however I’ve learned that overall, readers don’t need to know that a car can go super fast or that my protagonist is immensely hot.
I can be defiant, refusing to let tried-and-true principles trump my need to be right. I needed proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that most adverbs are in vain.
I opened the file belonging to my 113,000 word manuscript. Blindly, I searched for and deleted every just, always, really, some, and very. I didn’t care about sentence structure or meaning. After this, I re-read the story.
What do you think happened? I put a handful of these words back into the story because the impact legitimately called for them. The remaining adverbs were never seen again because they’d added no value and would never be missed. I now have a leaner, meaner manuscript.
How cluttered had my manuscript been before the changes? In other words, how many adverbs didn’t make the cut?
Pretty, very, really, amazing…don’t you think?
Wait. Start over.
Michelle studied writing in high school and longed to become an author. But circumstances arose, causing her to join the military instead. However, she never gave up. She enrolled in writing school, finished her first crime novel, and will achieve her MBA this fall. She writes as Krymzen Hall at http://www.helium.com/users/421563/show_articles
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Good piece, Michelle. I was a television writer for many years and never used adverbs unless it was called for in a character's dialogue. Now that I'm writing a blog, I find myself (I almost said "really") guilty of that particular habit. Your piece was a good reminder on the subject. Thanks.ReplyDelete
Thank you for this post! I am trying to make my writing more concise. I'm still used to my "school mind" of padding essays to meet word or length counts. It's a tough habit to break!ReplyDelete
Good article, and thanks for the reminder. Now I'll have to scan my stories/articles for "just, really, etc." Until I read your article, I only scanned for excess adverbs. I've got a feeling I'll be unpleasantly surprised, lol.ReplyDelete
As for the 2497 adverbs that you cut, all I can say is "Wow!" I do like my adverbs, and the transition to virtually adverb-free writing has been traumatic!
My dad was my high school English instructor, and he expected and taught precision in writing. Therefore, his students learned to use an adverb if it was relevant. Granted, not all adverbs can be cut, but many adverbs waste writing space!
Thanks for your insight! :)
Thanks, fellow writers. I love learning from each other...:)ReplyDelete