Wednesday, January 04, 2017

IWSG: A Rule to Ignore--Cautiously

Welcome to the first Insecure Writer's Support Group of 2017! This month, our co-hosts are Eva @ lilicasplace, Crystal Collier, Sheena-Kay Graham, Chemist Ken, LG Keltner, and Heather Gardner.

This month's question is What writing rule do you wish you'd never heard?

As soon as I read this question, I knew my response definitely had to be about adverbs. While this rule has the good intention of pressuring writers to choose strong verbs, it does so at the cost of persuading them that an entire class of words should be stricken from their vocabularies. Sometimes using an adverb can subtly shade meanings in a way that would be difficult, if not impossible, to do with a single word. For example, "She smiled forlornly." Grinning, grimacing, beaming, and smirking don't convey the mixed feelings of this character.

Adverbs can also be part of a writing style for a particular story. A melodramatic character would use more of them than an emotionally stable character. Similarly, adverbs feel more at home in my fantasy Season Avatars series set in a Victorianesque world than they do in my science fiction, where my POV characters tend to have scientific backgrounds. (Disclaimer: I'm sure there are adverbs in my Catalyst Chronicles series; they're there for the reason I cite above.)

A third reason for disregarding the rule to avoid adverbs is to improve your writing flow. Often as I'm drafting a story, the sentence that first pops into my head comes with an adverb. If I tell myself to rewrite that sentence every time that happens, it would interfere with my ability to make progress on the story. I find it easier to type the adverb and keep going. The best time to decide if a particular adverb is worth keeping is during the revising/editing stages. I remove a significant fraction of the adverbs in my stories when I revise, but I don't eliminate them completely. Sometimes I even add them. For example, I changed "I don't remove all of them" to "I don't eliminate them completely" to remove a word and make the line punchier. Being flexible with my use of adverbs allows me to adjust word counts to the optimum length for each story.

Are you a fan or foe of adverbs? Are there other writing rules you disagree with? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments.


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

It's a rule that can be carried to an extreme. In one of my last two books, I managed to eliminate every single LY word. My critique partners persuaded me to put a few in because it read odd in some places. So, you just have to know when to use them.

Sandra Almazan said...

Exactly, Alex!

Pat Dilloway said...

Some of those "rules" can be ridiculous like when an "editor" told me to change all ing verbs to ed verbs

Sandra Almazan said...

That doesn't sound like good editing to me, Pat. An editor should work with what you've written to improve it, not impose artificial rules on it.

Maria Zannini said...

I use adverbs in informal speech, like blogs or inside a character's voice. Descriptive narrative is different though. The words should be concrete and visual. That's what transports you.

emaginette said...

I swear by moderation. Too much of anything has consequences.

Anna from elements of emaginette

James Pailly said...

There was a period of time when I agonized over every adverb I put in my writing. In many cases, I ended up finding a stronger verb, and my writing improved. But there were a lot of situations where I had to write these weird, convoluted sentences to avoid the adverb. I wasted a lot of time and energy on that, and in the end I just put the adverbs back where they belonged.

Deb R.H. said...

I tend to not get rid of all of mine, either. A few are just necessary.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

In fan fiction I let my adverb fairy fly free. In other work I'll just see what happens during edits. Writing needs to have a natural flow and when a book gets too stunted by rules, readers notice and are put off.

2017 IWSG January Co-Host

Sandra Almazan said...

Maria, those are good examples of times to use adverbs.

Anna, I'm a fan of moderation too!

James, yes, sometimes avoiding adverbs is more trouble than it's worth.

I agree, Deb.

Great points, Sheena!

Pat Garcia said...

Happy New Year and all the best for 2017.

I like adverbs, but I minimize my use of them so that when I use one it stands out.
Shalom aleichem,
Pat Garcia

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