Tuesday, March 30, 2010

More About Adverbs

If you search for adverbs ending in "ly", you'll run into a few specific kinds of words that need particular editorial attention. (Can you count the unnecessary adjectives in that sentence?)

Adverbs that indicate when an action happens are problematic, especially in fiction. I still haven't learned how to use them in a way that pleases me. They seem necessary, yet they sound sophomoric in the writing. Words like: eventually, finally (Most overused word in my manuscript, I'm sure.), suddenly (Sheesh. Sounds like a Dick and Jane reader when I use it.) often come at the beginning of a sentence, and can become repetitious so easily. If anyone has any idea how to deal properly with these "time" descriptors, will you let me know?

Probably and usually are examples of what are called "hedge" words, and should be used deliberately or not at all. It's better simply to leave them off and make a strong statement without the qualifier, unless you have a strong reason to put them in. I use them only when I'm writing from inside the mind of a character who is going through the process of thinking something through. If my character is thinking "probably" or "usually" I'll let it pass. But the author shouldn't be that hedgy.

Supposedly, hurriedly, and all other adverbs where "ed" comes before the "ly" are awkward and archaic. They'll bog your writing down and date you, and most of us don't want to be dated, at least not in that sense.

And here are some sneaky ones: obviously, apparently, and evidently are usually unnecessary. If it's obvious, apparent or evident, why do you have to tell your reader it is? Again, these words are okay if they're in the mind of a character. Your main character might say to himself, "This was obviously going to be a one-sided conversation." Or, "Apparently, he was supposed to read her mind." But when you slip out of a character's mind into narrative, you insult your reader by telling her the obvious.

One strong clue that an adverb is bad, bad, bad is when it's linked with some form of the verb "to be." "It was obviously a wrong number." She was apparently going to refuse." "He was finally getting there." These are all passive constructions, and we all know how bad, bad, bad the passive voice is.

Speaking of passive voice, did you know that clever "find" tool can help you find it? We'll talk about that in the next post. Meanwhile, blessings on your delete button as you search and destroy those unnecessary adverbs.

Who was it who said, "If a word doesn't work for you, it works against you?" Renni Browne? Dave King?

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Find Tool: A Writer's Best Friend

Does your editor say you have a problem with wordiness? Are you addicted to adverbs, the passive voice, ambiguous pronouns, unnecessary demonstrative pronouns?

If so, you're not alone. These problems hound every writer. But cheer up. Help is at hand. In fact, it's right there under your hand. It's called a mouse, and when it clicks on the "Edit" thinggummy in the top left-hand corner of your screen, then moves down to the "Binocs" icon and clicks there, you've found the solution to all your problems.

Well, okay. That's a bit strong. But at least you've found a great helper when it comes to the problems mentioned above, and many more.

You've probably already discovered this great friend, but you might not have thought of all the ways it can work for you. I'm going to write a series of posts on how I'm using it. If you discover some helpful ones here, that's great. If you've found some I haven't discovered yet, please comment so we can add your discoveries to the list.

Finding Adverbs

This first post is going to be about finding adverbs.

We've all heard the latest news: adverbs are clutter that keep us from choosing stronger verbs. But we were taught to use adverbs in school and it's a hard lesson to un-learn. They slip into our writing automatically. Hence, the need for revisions that ferret them out. This is where the find tool can help.

Many adverbs end in "ly". If you can eliminate those, you've gotten rid of much of your adverb problem. So the trick is to find all the "ly" words in your manuscript and kill the ones you don't need. The find tool can lead you to those pesky critters.

I hear you saying, "Oh groan. That's so much trouble. So nit-picky."

Yes, it is, but the nit-picking is worth the trouble, because going through this process will accomplish much more than the clean-up of the particular manuscript you are trying to sell to a nit-picky editor. As you do it, you're also developing great editorial skills. You're learning to recognize the problem, and you're practicing how to fix it.

And, great bonus here, you're also ensuring the problem does not happen so often in the future. Your internal editor will make sure of that. She'll be nattering in your ear: "See. This is bad. And if you'd learned to do it right in the first place, you wouldn't have to go through this tedious process." If you trudge through the process once, your next rough draft will need a lot less attention, because your mind will be re-trained to avoid adverbs.

So here's the procedure:

1) Set your cursor at the beginning of your manuscript.
2) Then do the mouse thing to find the binocs and click on it. A box will appear over your text, and your cursor will be blinking, ready and waiting, in the box.
3) Type "ly" and one space in the box.
4) Click on the "Find Next" box. The program will take you, one instance at a time, to every word that ends in ly (with two exceptions explained below). Make sure you put a space after the "ly" in the box. If you don't, the tool will highlight every word where the two letters appear together, and you are only interested in finding words that end that way.
5) You must then deal with every instance individually. Some "ly" adverbs you may decide to leave in, but many of them you'll want to delete and choose a more specific verb instead.

About those exceptions: when you type "ly" plus a space in the find box, the program will not take you to any "ly" words that have a comma or a period after them. If you want to do a thorough job you'll also need to search for "ly." and "ly,".

Adverbs that don't end in "ly" are not detectable with the Find tool. You'll have to look for them another way. But the process is invaluable for alerting you to the need to limit adverb use.

Stay tuned. Next post will talk about another editorial use of the tool. Don't know when it will appear. If you want to be alerted, put your e-mail address in the Feedblitz gadget at the top, left-hand side of the blog page. Feedblitz will then send you an e-mail notice when the next post is available.

Happy nit-picking! And please do comment if you have advice to add to this topic.

P.S. I checked this post for "ly" adverbs. Found three. Deleted two of them. Both were the word, "really." I didn't really need either of them. Don't need it here either, do I?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Three Great Websites!

So today I'm doing research and sending off queries. Cold calling. Yes, I know it's not supposed to work, but I don't know what else to do to get this baby out there. I'm hoping once I do this assignment I will feel less agitated about not going anywhere with it.

In the process I've found what look to be some great resources.

First, Terry Whalin's Right Writing. If you sign up for his e-zine you get free copies of three of his books on using the web. He's written over 60 non-fiction books, was acquisitions editor for Howard Books for five years, and now is with Intermedia Publishing Group, a self-publishing press that looks quite professional.

Then there's a great resource with a wealth of information on Christian publishers at Lyn Cote's website. Lyn Cote sounds like an amazing woman. She's multi-published, very polished, and willing to share her wisdom with up-coming writers. Check out her hints on publishing at:http://www.booksbylyncote.com/writers.html

I'm also looking at a Christian Publishing Service "for authors wanting to present their own book proposals to the leading Christian publishers in the industry." For $98 I can put my manuscript in the electronic slush piles of many of the major publishing houses. Another long-shot, but may be worth a try.

Check them out! If nothing else, this will serve as a legitimate writing procrastination tool.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Lies That Keep Me From Writing

You can’t do it.
You have nothing to say.
It’s all been said before, better.
There’s too much to read in the world already.
No one will want to read it.
It’s too hard to get right.
It won’t matter.