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September 15, 2013

“Writers always use too damn many adverbs.

On one page, recently, I found eleven modifying the verb ‘said’: ‘He said morosely, violently, eloquently,’ and so on.
Editorial theory should probably be that a writer who can’t make his context indicate the way his character is talking ought to be in another line of work. Anyway, it is impossible for a character to go through all these emotional states one after the other. Lon Chaney might be able to do it, but he is dead.” Nota Bene – Futility Closet

Posted by gerardvanderleun at September 15, 2013 5:41 PM. This is an entry on the sideblog of American Digest: Check it out.

Your Say

That's good writing right there. The rules have a clarity that is shocking in these days of pussy.

Posted by: chuck at September 15, 2013 7:25 PM

You can almost always get away with just having people "say" things. Another trick is to have the character do something right before speaking and the reader will associate them with the dialog without an identifier needed at all.

Avoid other words like "sneered" and "gasped" or whatever. The setting, description, and context ought to carry all the emotion you need in most cases.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at September 15, 2013 8:30 PM

"When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them – then the rest will be valuable." --Mark Twain

Posted by: Darkwater at September 15, 2013 10:43 PM

Twain also said that when reviewing your draft, substitute "damn" for every adverb. Then your editor will simply delete and your writing will be better.

Of course, editors don't delete "damn" anymore.

Posted by: Donald Sensing at September 16, 2013 6:30 AM

@Donald Sensing: Indeed, they encourage its use, as a starting point. (Good to see you.)

Posted by: Darkwater at September 16, 2013 9:15 AM

Note that the fellow quoted has a problem with adverbial attributions in dialogue tags. That's far from a condemnation of all use of adverbs -- yet the doctrinaire types would have you believe that to use an adverb in fiction, in any way, is a mortal sin. I'm here to tell you: it is not. And you can quote me.

Posted by: Francis W. Porretto at September 16, 2013 1:55 PM

Correct, adverbs, properly used, are valuable - but easily overused. Metaphors and Similes are the same way, easily overused and can become awful. Its one thing to, as Chekov said, not "tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." But you can go too far and describe the moon as a shining slice of provalone on a bed of black satin sheets sprinkled with bright spots like Christmas lights hanging over the city as if it were a sagging warehouse roof dripping with starlight. Less is more. You want every word to count as much as possible.

Posted by: Christopher Taylor at September 16, 2013 2:07 PM

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