April 1st, 2010

Wright's Writing Corner: The Adverb Is Dead. Long Live the Adverb.

Guest Blog this week: the charming Charles Grey weighs in for the Heming Way: 

The best new piece of advice on writing I know of comes from William Goldman via David Morrell’s book Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing.  The whole book is invaluable – it’s the only one I’ve read all the way through and then immediately flipped back to chapter one and read again – but this particular bit is a $20,000 lotto ticket.  In the chapter on structure, Morrell says something to the effect that if the pace of a chapter seems to be lagging, go back and chop off the beginning.  Probably the last paragraph, too.  So just for fun, a couple of weeks ago I opened up an unsuccessful piece of fiction from a few years back and did the necessary surgery.  Instant improvement.

 But does this apply to writing anything more than thrillers?  Are Elmore Leonard’s ten rules likewise only good for people who want to write like Elmore Leonard?  Just what the hell is wrong with adverbs, anyway?

 Goldman, Leonard, and Morrell’s advice is all about eliminating the unnecessary, and so are Leonard’s rules.  The ten rules are an essential starting place, no matter what sort of prose you want to master in the end.  Just like the rules of grammar, you have to understand them and use them before you can break them.  So learn them.  Write without adverbs.  Eliminate all speech tags except for "said.” (Maybe there's a special dispensation for "asked.")  Streamline description.  Write short declarative sentences.  These are all a means to an end.  That end is clarity, and clarity is essential to all writing.

Bad writing, fuzzy and dull writing, comes from laziness.  Laziness tempts you to reach for the first word that comes to mind instead of making yourself strain your authorial muscles to hammer out the perfect phrase.  Adverbs indicate lazy writing.  Adverbs are deadly because they attach themselves like lampreys to commonplace verbs, and suck the life out of the search for powerful, precise verbs. Likewise with attention-getting speech tags, which take the place of dialog that is true to the way people really talk.

 

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Wright’s Writing Corner: The Adverb Is Dead. Long Live the Adverb.

Guest Blog this week: the charming Charles Grey weighs in for the Heming Way: 

The best new piece of advice on writing I know of comes from William Goldman via David Morrell’s book Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing.  The whole book is invaluable – it’s the only one I’ve read all the way through and then immediately flipped back to chapter one and read again – but this particular bit is a $20,000 lotto ticket.  In the chapter on structure, Morrell says something to the effect that if the pace of a chapter seems to be lagging, go back and chop off the beginning.  Probably the last paragraph, too.  So just for fun, a couple of weeks ago I opened up an unsuccessful piece of fiction from a few years back and did the necessary surgery.  Instant improvement.

 But does this apply to writing anything more than thrillers?  Are Elmore Leonard’s ten rules likewise only good for people who want to write like Elmore Leonard?  Just what the hell is wrong with adverbs, anyway?

 Goldman, Leonard, and Morrell’s advice is all about eliminating the unnecessary, and so are Leonard’s rules.  The ten rules are an essential starting place, no matter what sort of prose you want to master in the end.  Just like the rules of grammar, you have to understand them and use them before you can break them.  So learn them.  Write without adverbs.  Eliminate all speech tags except for "said.” (Maybe there’s a special dispensation for "asked.")  Streamline description.  Write short declarative sentences.  These are all a means to an end.  That end is clarity, and clarity is essential to all writing.

Bad writing, fuzzy and dull writing, comes from laziness.  Laziness tempts you to reach for the first word that comes to mind instead of making yourself strain your authorial muscles to hammer out the perfect phrase.  Adverbs indicate lazy writing.  Adverbs are deadly because they attach themselves like lampreys to commonplace verbs, and suck the life out of the search for powerful, precise verbs. Likewise with attention-getting speech tags, which take the place of dialog that is true to the way people really talk.

 

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Collapse )Originally posted to Welcome to Arhyalon. (link)