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A lot of writers much smarter than I am have told me I should, at all costs, avoid adverbs.  And because they are so very smart, it seems logical that they are right (whatever . . . that means?) on this matter.

But I’m not happy about it.

At some point, I decided that adverbs were my favorite part of speech.  I couldn’t tell you why or when I made this decision, but I know I made it.  If you don’t believe me, here is a brief list of adverbs I have had to resist the impulse to use, from the top of this blog post ’til now:

  • Unanimously
  • Totally
  • Generally
  • Really
  • Exactly
  • Definitely
  • Ridonkulously
  • (Okay, maybe not that last one)

My love of adverbs does not blind me to the benefits of crushing them under one’s Mighty Editorial Fist.

One of the reasons I’ve heard for this writerly (Adjective!) aversion to verb-describers is that they encourage a certain kind of laziness.  Or redundancy.  Or both.

Run for your lives! Jerry screamed, frantically.

“Frantically,” here, could be lazy because it might take the weight off of the writer to properly describe the peril of the situation.  If ze establishes that Jerry is frantic with an adverb, there may be less of a need to describe the venomous, thirty-inch fangs of the bloodthirsty tiger cobras pursuing him.

And it is redundant, because . . . well, have you ever heard somebody scream, “Run for your lives!” and thought to yourself how remarkably un-frantic they sounded?  No, smartass.  You have not.

But!  But, but, but.  What do rules have, children?

Exceptions!

(Sometimes, exceptions prove the rule.  I have no idea how.  But a lot of people seem to think it’s true.  Whatever.)

Perhaps Mx. Writer is trying to hint at the details of a situation only, without describing them (yet!).  Adverbs to the rescue!

Perhaps the next line in our writer’s tiger cobra scene is something like,

Oh dear, has something happened to the diamond? shouted Diana, almost . . .  amusedly.  There was no time to

Shazow!  This is a terrible example, but it does (I hope) give you a sense of what I’m talking about.  Diana had something to do with the tiger cobras, and the tiger cobras are part of a broader plot to steal the diamond.  The adverb here is what we in “the biz” call a hint.

An adverb might also come in handy, if somebody is doing or saying something in a way we wouldn’t expect.

Jerry was running out of hallway.  He glanced behind him and, not seeing the cobras, ducked into a door he vaguely recollected might house a broom cupboard.  He slammed and locked the door behind him, then wheeled around to face a young waiter – no older than nineteen, by the look of him.  They stared at each other, evaluating, for what felt like hours.  Then the waiter stepped across the breadth of the closet and embraced Jerry paternally.

Again, Shazow!  Writerperson is not being lazy by putting that “paternally” in, rather than explaining the fact that Jerry’s dad (Eliyahu) is really a time-travelling international spy.  Ze was trying to SHOCK and CONFUSE you, for dramatic effect.

I’m not selling this very well, huh?

Well, if you’ve gotten this far into the post, it seems to me you must have a sincere interest in my adverb-related views.  (Why?)  That being the case, I’m now going to gush a little bit.

You know how bow ties are cool?  And fezzes?  Adverbs are cool.

Let’s look at one.  Just one of the super, cool, super cool adverbs out there:

Instead.

Who hasn’t been in a situation where they meet a word at a coffee shop,  or maybe a book store, even a bar?  You hit it off right away.  Soon you’re slipping hir into casual conversation with people.  You’re loving the way the sounds feel when you say them.  The fricative consonants– MMM!  (Or should I say, “THHH”?)  You’re in love.  Pretty much.  At least you’re content to think of it that way.  This word is giving you everything you think you need.  But what does it mean?

I’m talking about the word.  What does it mean?  You’ve been using it so long and so often, you’re scared to look it up and find out you’ve been making a buffoon of yourself.  You’ve forgotten how to communicate – no, how to function – without this word, but you’re slowly realizing that the things you love about hir are probably all things you made up.

What you need – what we all need, girlfriend – is an instead.  Why?  It is a magical, self defining adverb.

That’s so awesome, I can’t even come up with an extension of my dating analogy to describe it with.

BOY
I’m not going to college! I’m
going to be an actor instead!

MOTHER
What is that supposed to mean?

BOY
I’m not going to college. I’m
going to be an actor in its stead.

MOTHER
Oh. I misheard. Want some pizza?

Is that not awesome?!  I love pizza!

Why are you looking at me like that?  Wait!  No!  Come back!  I’ll stop being so weird!  (I won’t.)

I suppose there is a non-idiotic way to say this.  I love adverbs, at least in part (Partially!) because they demonstrate the Anglophone (human?) flair for condensing.

It’s easy to conclude that our hypothetical writer used “frantically” because ze was too lazy to make it obvious for us.  But maybe ze used it because ze didn’t want to throw off the rhythm of a passage.  Ze condensed a lot of descriptive information into a single word.  Surely, the adverb here doesn’t make the speaker out to be less frantic than a description of the circumstances would.  It just gives us less of a why, and sometimes we don’t need so much why.

So we condense!

Maybe, a long time ago, people got sick of saying, “A friend in need is a friend, as characterized by hir actions demonstrative thereof.”

So they condensed!

I don’t even know what I’m saying anymore.  That’s a sure sign that I should wrap this up.

Take heart, fellow lovers of adverbs!  Sure there are situations to steer clear of adverbs.  I left a lot of juicy ones out of this post, and I am inclined think it is “better” for their omission.  But, in this writer’s opinion at least, it is no sin (if anything, like a two-crops-in-the-same-patch-of-dirt-level sin) to let them fly when you feel that itch to celebrate their niftiness!  Any word, used to delight or thrill or entice or arouse, is a word I am glad you use.

Except, “literally.”  Stop saying that.

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I recently sent an email to somebody who writes professionally, asking for some general advice on writing. 

I have to admit that I kind of regretted doing so when he first responded.  When asking somebody for advice, one opens oneself up to being treated like a stupid, stupid human being.

Puny one, I congratulate you on your great good fortune! You have arrived at the source of all relevant knowledge, and the case being as it is – that you are a clueless little babyperson – it shall behoove us to get started right away.

I shall not bore you with what he actually said. I have no doubt you have been, more than once, in receipt of the same “sit down, junior” vibrations.

Words like “arrogant” and “pretentious” began to float inexplicably to the surface of my mind. So, naturally I proceeded with the conversation as if unfazed. And, meeting no resistance, the pomp swelled to genuinely obnoxious levels. Would it be okay if I called him as asshole?

I was pretty sure he might be an asshole.

But, alas I asked for his advice. It felt rude to walk away without it, just because he was treating me like a nobody – bordering, if we’re being perfectly frank, on unworthiness. Beside that, I gone so far as to admire this person; I was damned if I was going to let him make himself appear unadmirable (and myself a dang fool) without a fight! So I pressed on! I made an embarassingly strong push to appear intelligent, articulate, confident, knowledgeable, creative, et al.. I shipped off a reply to his latest message, and folded my arms and waited.

In his reply, he did two major things. The first was saying something nice to me.

J, that’s what I’m talking about. Those are good answers.

He said they were “good.” He said they were good! I took to the tiny expression of approval as if coming from the drunken, homophobic father I never had. It was embarassingly awesome. But the second thing he said, and the reason I’m really writing this post, was . . .

Then ask yourself this question: “Do I need to write?”

Do I need to write?

Do I need to write?

I love to write. I am excited by writing. I am excited by words in general, actually. Writing is healing. It ignites my intellect. It makes me feel more. Writing connects me to a tradition that dates back, literally, to the dawn of history. It’s using words to do amazing things!

And none of that comes close to answering the question, “do I need to write?” Would I get through my life? Would I . . . succeed? Would I feel like whole person, if I did not write? Some hypothetical questions are easy to digest. This problem is not one of them. Not for me.

The only thing that I feel has put me in the neighborhood of a confident response to my dubious advisor’s query was the memory a meltdown I had a month or so ago.

It was a very typical, identity-crisis sort of meltdown that men of my age and description are so prone to. (I hope.) I found myself overflowing with very pathetic bullshit. I don’t have what it takes. I have nothing to say. I’m not strong enough. I’m not focused enough. I’m not good enough. All about writing. All about the myriad reasons I shouldn’t be a writer and should settle for something else. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, self-conscious oblivion. And, as you might expect, I reacted to all of these crushing thoughts of by writing more. Depending upon taste, you might say “way” more.

In other words, I reacted to my obsession with nonwriterworthiness by “writing it out.” Almost automatically. Very soon afterwards, I created a blog you might be familiar with. I think that says something.

I don’t know if it says anything definite, but it says something relevant. I will let you know if it says something significant.

And I’ll be thinking about these problems. I’ll be thinking about whether I need to write. I’ll definitely be thinking about whether ******* is an asshole or not.


-J

Tell me, dear people: Do you need to write?