Monday, July 7, 2008

Alarming Adverbs and other writerly errors - a rant

In Writing 101, we learned words may be strong, weak, weaselly, working, lazy, etc. and that adverbs are best used sparingly if at all.

What is an adverb? "A word used to modify a verb, adjective or another adverb, expressing time, place, manner, degree, etc." (page 10 of Webster's New World Dictionary)

Learning a few of the basic rules and tools of writing has caused me to know some reasons why I like a novel - or not. Previously, I might have felt disinterested and distant from a book I read, but now I see some of the reasons I favor certain writers over others.

I like plots that surprise me and remain believable, and novels full of action but with evocative descriptions of place, time, manner and degree. I like writers who convey ideas with some subtlety. Repetition is allowed, but I don't want things spelled out for me, nor to be virtually hit over the head with a concept, and no shortcuts, please: no generic descriptions, no stereotypical characters, no lazy writing.

My favorite genres are science fiction and historical romance, and right now I'm on romance jag, reading at least three a week, many of them downloaded in digital format from Powell's Books. I'm irritated enough with my current reading selection to wake up this morning with a rant on my mind.

First, when describing the warm, moist condition of an aroused woman's most womanly parts, please do not use use the word "teeming" (which includes the meaning "swarming") - unless the intent is to convey a problem with an STD.

If it has been well established in the story that the MC is a virgin, please do not beat me over the head with it again and stick the adjective "virginal" in front of "womanhood". That is just aggravating redundancy.

"Diabolically" is a useful adjective, but when ambiance is nicely established with horned shadows on the wall and other items, adding "diabolically" to "carved"creates more ambiguity than clarity. Now I must interrupt my reading to wonder, "Did the devil carve the chair? If not, was the carver truly diabolical? Perhaps it means the carving itself is diabolical. But wait - that is already established, and it is only the passing perception of evening shadows, because earlier descriptions of the manse included simple, Georgian era furnishings, so was the chair carved with little horned devils on it? There is no other description of this particular chair, so I assume not.... Aarghh!"

Last but most certainly not least - the miserable adverb "wonderingly". Here is my advice to published writers, nearly published writers, wanna-be writers and anyone else who may scribe: throw out "wonderingly". Throw it out. Permanently. Irrevocably. Lastingly. Foreverly! Yikes - do not let it back into your grab bag of shortcuts. If it tries to come back in creepily or sneakingly, hit it strengthily with your hammerly hand and kill it most definitely.

If you must express wonder, use the tried and true big round eyes, little 'o' of a mouth, or any other common description you like. Better yet, grab for the gold ring and characterize wonder with some original prose. Build it up, forecast it with the setting, include it in the colors, let it linger in the response - but whatever else you do, do not write "wonderingly".

5 comments:

heather said...

wonderingly...that is a special one. and the diabolically carved...good grief.

Jaye Patrick said...

This is why I like real books - as opposed to downloads. I can take the book to a second-hand store at get some money back.

But you're right. Adverbs have their place but can *gulp* easily be over-used.

I have a list on post-its stuck to the side of my computer screen to remind me not to use them.

Teeming? As in rain? I suspect the woman has a serious problem. Teeming. Hah!

Pandababy said...

Special indeed, Heather. Wonderingly. It even sounds awkward.

Abundant and overflowing is the usual meaning of teeming so yes, like rain Jaye. A lessor meaning is swarming - which unfortunately popped into my head first. Bad enough to be jerked out of a story mood but that one was just awful.

Marina said...

"hit it strengthily with your hammerly hand" -- loved it! So true too. (And now I'm wondering if I've ever used "wonderingly" ...)

Pandababy said...

Nah, anyone who appreciates my silly rif on adverbs wouldn't have it in them to use wonderingly.

Hi Marina and thanks for stopping by my blog.