Posts Tagged ‘using adverbs’

No one likes rules.

Well, I never did. And even though I am now a parent and responsible for laying them down and upholding them, I still don’t like them. But they are everywhere, and in some cases, they have to be. As I get older, I appreciate that simple truth.

But what about in writing? Do we need rules in writing? And are these rules global or do we each latch on to our own preferred cache of writing laws to hone our craft? And what happens when a highly-admired writer “breaks” these rules we hold dear?

A purist's Whoopie. Chocolate with vanilla filling.

I have recently posted about the preferences for/against any dialog tags other than said or ask, as well as the use/misuse of adverbs. If pressed, I would say these tenants are some of my “rules” in writing, as in, the ones that I believe make my writing stronger and tidier and better-crafted when I can adhere to them.

Or do they?

Just the other day I started Jonathan Franzen’s new novel Freedom and within a few pages, there they were: tags and adverbs!–and not just once, but several times! Egads! Someone mused (optimistically, I might add), another person teased (and teased again within a few sentences). I was confused, I was shocked, I was wickedly thrilled! How could a writer of such esteem use adverbs, and tags other than said or ask, when all my writing life I’ve believed that doing so was frowned upon?

Now make no mistake, I am not a purist. (Well, except when it comes to eggnog, Whoopie Pies, and to not tweaking the original Star Wars movies–George, did you have to replace the aged Anakin in the final Jedi ghost group shot? Really?) There are plenty of times in my novels when I have used more than my quota of adverbs. Many, more more. LITTLE GALE GUMBO will indeed greet the world with several that I simply couldn’t bear to cast off. This is not a critique, simply a curiosity. An observation. Maybe even, a bit of a relief.

So what about you all? What happens when a writer you admire, or even one you know 90% of the world’s population admires, breaks a writing rule you hold dear? Does it make you rethink your rules? Or does it make you believe even more firmly that rules in writing are as individual as writers, or better yet, just made to be broken?

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Who knew I was so fond of the word brightly?

Turns out I am. Fanatical, even. In one of my recent editorial passes at my novel, I came to realize that I liked one of my characters to respond “brightly” to practically everything she did when she was of a certain mood.

She smiled brightly (well, yeah, who doesn’t?)

She laughed brightly (ditto)

She replied brightly (maybe not universal, but still.)

And sometimes, just sometimes, she even LOOKED brightly.

Yikes. Enough already!

Now, I am still committed to this charming and pivotal aspect of her personality, but, man! Methinks I need to lay off the brightness. There are other ways to suggest someone is: hopeful/sunny/optimistic/cheerful. Particularly when one doesn’t depend on an adverb to do it.

What about you all? Any descriptive words, phrases, analogies that you find yourself drawn to like a moth to a (bright!) flame?

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Dialog tags. Where would we be without them?

Let’s ask Girl and Boy what they think:

“I don’t know.”

“Don’t you?”

“I just said I didn’t, didn’t I?”

“Did you say it or did I say it?”

“I’m not sure. Which one of us is talking right now?”

And this is why we need them. So the issue at hand for writers isn’t whether or not to use them, but how sparingly and which ones. As writers and readers we know there are essentially two teams:

Team 1 says only use “he said, she said” or “she asked, he asked” (and sometimes the second option is even discouraged).

Team 2 favors the more demonstrative tags, the use of exclaims and snaps and shouts and whispers, etc, etc. etc…(and let’s not forget the often-overused adverbs, wherein we whisper quietly or shout loudly.)

For me, I fall somewhere in the middle of the two (as I suspect a lot of people do.) Some days, I am fearless when I write. I stick to the basics. I use only said and asked, and I strike out adverbs before they can reach the keyboard. But I won’t lie–it’s a battle. My inclination is always to use something else, and to, yes, tack on that dreaded adverb. I did so someĀ  in LITTLE GALE GUMBO and I assume I will do it some more in my next novel. But sparingly.

Because the truth is that the strongest dialog doesn’t need a tag to clarify its intention. As so many writers teach, the words being said should be enough indication.

For example:

Jill folded her arms, her eyes narrowing. “Must be nice being so perfect at everything,” she snapped snarkily.

Now I’m betting you already guessed the tone of that line even before you read the tag, which, frankly, comes a little too late anyway to be of much use to the reader. Now if you didn’t get the gist of the speaker’s tone, well then, the dialog should probably be reworked.

So fellow writers and readers, which team are you?

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