Please excuse any mess around here while blog is undergoing damage repair.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Too Many Shoes, Part 1

Some of you out there may argue that one can never have too many shoes, but I beg to differ. When your closet becomes so cluttered that you can't find what you're looking for, perhaps you have too many shoes. Most of us know that the use of adverbs in our writing is frowned upon. Yet we read many books (some of which have made their way to the NYT's Bestsellers list) that use adverbs in abundance. So why can't we use them? Well, it's just another one of those contradictions. In case you want to know, here's my opinion: Adverbs in and of themselves aren't bad. What makes them bad is when they are used to tell rather than show. In other words, if a sentence can be rewritten without using an adverb and still get across the same meaning, by all means, get rid of the adverb. For example, you could say this: I stepped lightly across the living room carpet. Or, you could say this: I tip-toed across the living room carpet. (Okay, I know not great examples, but I'm not quite awake yet.) Anyway, my point is that you can have too many adverbs. One way to avoid that is to try to rewrite sentences without using the adverb. I think you will find that your writing is stronger and is more likely to show and not tell. I'm not saying that every adverb needs to go, but I do think their use should be limited. What do you think of adverbs? Do you have a love/hate relationship with them like I do?

48 comments:

~Ellie Kings~ said...

I'm not one for loads of shoes, not since I was in my teens. Adverbs, on the other hand, is a different story. I use them often. Thanks to you, I now know better.
PS. It's already 930am here, I can't believe I'm your first comment. yeay!

Matthew Delman said...

"Everything in moderation" as the old adage says.

I feel this same way about most things that agents/editors complain about in terms of grammar. It's not the turn of phrase/punctuation that specifically bothers them ... it's the overuse of said phrase/punctuation.

Overuse begets annoyance. Well, that and lazy writing. Thus sayeth the copy editor. :)

Kristi Faith said...

Great post, most people fail to mention why the adverbs are so devious. However, the way you put it with your example(hey, simple is good, makes perfect sense. Thanks!

strugglingwriter said...

There are a ton of adverbs in the Harry Potter books. It takes me out of the story now that I pay attention to such things, but it wasn't a big deal to me as a reader before I started writing.

I would say avoid adverbs mostly, but if one creeps into your work it isn't the end of the world.

Melanie's Randomness said...

I had no idea about this adverb rule!! I don't use them very much but ooohhh I'll be aware of my useage.

Ever watch Top Chef? On the show they use soo many adjectives that are just wayy too big & rare to explain dishes so it's like What exactly were you trying to say??? I imagine adverbs are like that. One or two but when the thing is them...it can be noticeable & annoying & things get lost. OOooooo Sooo many rules!!!

I have way too many shoes that I just don't wear, so it's a cluttered mess. Ohh a cleaning day is in order STAT.

Kristen Torres-Toro said...

Okay, I understand the reason behind the rule a whole lot more now. But I'm still in mourning for all my beautiful adverbs.

Patti said...

I definitely use too many adverbs, lots of times I don't even realize I'm doing it. My last go through I highlighted every adverb and tried to get rid of as many as possible.

Robyn Campbell said...

Susan, great post. I like adverbs, but have tried to put them in the closet. Where I stuff everything else. :-)

Seriously, LESS IS MORE. Once in a while I'll drag one out, but now at least I know why I shouldn't use them. Thank you. :)

Jennifer Shirk said...

That was a good example!

I love my adverbs.
(Although I DO try to reword SOME of them when I edit) :)

Valerie Geary said...

During rough draft stages, I use adverbs like crazy. The first draft of my most recent WIP had 51 instances of the word "gently". (And no I'm not writing a book about toilet paper!) I was able to change all those sentences to better express what I wanted to say. Except 1. There was 1 time were "gently" needed to be used. There was no other way to write the sentence. Thus, there are appropriate instances for using adverbs, but most of the time... a rewrite is in order! :)

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I most definitely have a love/hate relationship with them! I use them like crazy, but I'm planning to go into an adverb recovery program and then start my own version of AA - adverbs anonymous! ;-)

L. T. Host said...

I love adverbs, so I use them. I'm not afraid to use them, but I do try and think of ways around them when I can.

Deb@RGRamblings said...

My first drafts are littered with adverbs. The nice thing is, like you say, they can act as flags for areas that need fixing.

Catherine Denton said...

Well said. Yes, I have to peel all my adverbs off the first draft. And second draft. And third...

JennyMac said...

I love adverbs too and try to not go overboard.

Rae said...

I am an adverb-holic. I am addicted to them, but I am trying to break the habit. Yes, I love/hate them too. You have given me incentive to work on changing my bad ways.

Paul Greci said...

That was a great example, Susan.
Sometimes adverb use can depend on the character's voice but mostly I try to use them sparingly.

Karen said...

I know I use adverbs sometimes, but I try to avoid them. I think you explained it well. I think the overuse of adverbs is lazy writing.

Wendy @ All in a Day's Thought said...

A good question I ask is if the little bugger is necessary. Or does the sentence have more power without it.
~ Wendy

Amber Lynae said...

I am VERY addicted to adverbs. I have to learn not to tell but to show. Songs are sung beautifully, the lady moves gracefully, and so on and so forth. LOL

Dominique said...

I try to limit my adverbs as a way of making myself think a little more about my word choices

jbchicoine said...

I think the sentence you provided is actually quite good. So often, an adverb takes the place of loads of words that describe an action, but here you have economized on words while conveying it with something stronger. Personally, I think adverbs are often a trade-off and should be weighed against what is more effective.

Tamika: said...

Susan, I think I love them too much! But I long for strong writing, so I'm learning to cut the fat.

Thanks for this post! I love shoes, and I hate to throw out a favorite, but I must to stay in fashion. Same goes for my writing, I want to keep it sharp and fresh.

WhisperingWriter said...

I have to edit out a lot of adverbs. I use a TON when I write my first draft. I'm all, "Geez Amber, are you in love with adverbs or what?"

Jody Hedlund said...

You did a great job explaining this! I agree one hundred percent!

Patti Lacy said...

I just posted on this, Susan, and hope you check it out.

www.pattilacy.com/blog

Adverbs are kinda like confrontations. Avoid them when you can, but sometimes they really help clear the air, pinpoint issues, let you move on.

Why am I always so in your face???!!! LOL

Patti

www.pattilacy.com/blog

Tara McClendon said...

This is well said. I like adverbs, but I strive to find stronger words when possible.

Sara ♥ said...

SIGH. I don't edit while writing first drafts - but in this last one I DID pay attention to my use of adverbs. I was so proud of myself when I finished - I was sure I hadn't used them to describe dialogue and I certainly hadn't used them to tell things instead of showing them.

WRONG. Man - during edits I had so. many. adverbs. Some I kept, but most I tried to get rid of. I guess they just snuck in while I wasn't looking...

Angie Muresan said...

Are you kidding me? I LOVE adverbs!

quixotic said...

I'm a bit of an adverb abuser. I usually have to cut 50% of them in rewrites.

Bane of Anubis said...

Adverbs are bad, but I usually prefer them over adverbial phrases.

Jade said...

My first draft is littered with them but I take most of them out when I edit. It always shocks me how many I've inserted without realising.

Cindy said...

I like adverbs, but you're right. Most of the time they aren't necessary. Great idea about rewriting the sentence. If you can do so without using the adverb, you probably should. And it DOES make your writing stronger.

Stephanie Thornton said...

I can't remember what I was reading, but a while back an author said adverbs should be deleted if they steal power from your noun or verb. Or if they're repetitive.

To use your example: I tiptoed lightly across the room.

Tiptoeing implies lightly so the adverb isn't necessary. But sometimes the adverb is required to denote tone.

"I love you," she said.

Or

"I love you," she said, sadly.

That's the rule I follow.

Dawn Simon said...

Adverbs can be lazy writing tools (no offense to your former profile name - hee!) that make writing sound flat. Alarms go off when we read them now, don't they? Sometimes they're appropriate, but (IMHO) they're often a sign of where you can put a stronger verb or tweak something else in a sentence to make it have more punch. Sometimes removing the adverb is enough.

Suzyhayze said...

Some are necessary. You have to trust your gut..

my novel begins with a Blah blah blah sparsely decorated room....

And I've gotten a lot of criticism about that. But I've taken it out and put it back in because I believe it is NECESSARY. And I'm the writer. SO there *sticks tongue out at everyone*

Very immature.

Tabitha Bird said...

I am on a mission to kill with my adverbs when I edit. Only the chosen few make it through. May the force be with you adverbs! You will need it to make it out alive in my WIP.

Erica said...

I use adverbs very sparingly... Ha. I mean in my stories not my posts ;o)

I do like them though, sometimes there's no other word that fits, you know?

Great post!

Natalie said...

I try to use as few adverbs as possible, thought I'm sure some slip through!

I just gave you a little award. :)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

I'm often referring to that old rule "replace sloppy adverbs with stronger verbs" when I revise and edit. It sure helps with the tightening aspect, too.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

Happy Thursday morning, Susan! I have a little award for you at my blog today. ;-)

Glynis said...

I try to limit them but I am addicted. Interesting post.

lauraabest said...

Just found your blog and I love it!

As for adverbs I'm not one to use them very often. Although as it was said earlier, everything in moderation. Use it if the situation warrants. Writing needs to be a balance.

Lily Robinson said...

I thought it was a great example. Maybe I'm not awake yet either...

Yes, you can have too many shoes and adverbs.

Heather Sunseri said...

I definitely have a love/hate relationship with adverbs. I like how you explain this. Another way to say it is we should be using more descriptive or showing verbs instead of needing an adverb to tell more about the verb.

Angie Kate said...

I love adverbs... because now that I'm editing and removing everything unnecessary adverbs are making the sole difference. I use them a lot in first drafts, I write more details in drafts so I can remember and consolidate later. They don't always make it past editing but they're helpful to me intially.

Great blog, I followed you here from Shannon O'Donnell :)

Elizabeth Riggin said...

Love your blog! I am grateful to have come across this blog and look forward in seeing more in 2010! Have a great Christmas. E-

Kathy said...

I'm not against adverbs.