Monday, December 15, 2008

Adverbs and Adjectives Beware

“Don't Use Adverbs and Adjectives to Prettify Your Prose.” -- William Noble in Noble’s Book of Writing Blunders (And how to Avoid Them). Read this chapter here .
I reviewed a number of submissions to Flash Me Magazine and critiqued a few stories from two writing groups I belong to this weekend. The adverbs and adjectives (and passive verbs) jumped out at me. I wondered if any of those authors had seen this piece of advice, or one like it.

When writing my first drafts, I don’t concern myself with adverbs and adjectives. I let the ideas flow and worry about specifics later. However, I do consider their use before sending a piece out for public viewing. I don’t do it with every story I write, but I often go through a printout of a story I’m working on and underline every adjective, adverb and verb. I check the verbs to make sure my tenses match and that I use active verbs. I look at the adjectives and adverbs to determine if they’re needed, or if I can improve the prose by using stronger verbs and nouns. I don’t delete all of them. Sometimes, I decide a modifier is justified (more so adjectives than adverbs).

For me, the worst use of adverbs is in dialog tags like the one below.

“Damn, you,” she said, angrily.

How else can one say “Damn you?” Wouldn’t it be better to follow the dialog with an action that shows the reader how angry the speaker is? Or is the speaker embarrassed by her outburst?

Yes, adjectives and adverbs can be found strewn throughout any novel you open, and they crop up in short stories. Fewer appear in flash fiction, or should, where word count is limited. I use them, but only after careful thought and consideration.

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