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?


Janine said...

The easiest way to find these nefarious words is to use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It's awesome and it finds a bunch of other first draft problems as well.

Faith Imagined said...

Great information! Thank you so much for sharing!