Welcome to the official blog of Maumee Valley Romance Writers of America! We're a local writers' group in the Toledo, Ohio area. Most of us write romance, but we also have members who write other genres too. New members are always welcome to visit or join the group. See the meetings page for details. We post every Monday and Friday about all things book-related. Whether you're a writer, reader, or both, we hope you'll stop by often and get to know our dozen contributors.

Friday, February 4, 2011

MARK, HIS WORDS

If you’re a writer…
Or a reader…
You know that each author has their own “voice”…
Their own distinct way of telling a story…
Using words, sentence structure, punctuation, and setting scenes.
When I first started writing with hopes of getting published…
I stumbled upon adjectives and adverbs—literarily.
After many critiques and reviews of my writing…
One theme screamed out:
CUT DOWN YOUR USE OF ADJECTIVE AND ADVERBS!
But why, I whined?
I’m trying to find my voice...
And the voice that comes out of my mouth uses adjectives and adverbs…
Doesn’t it make sense to use adjectives and adverbs in my writing voice?
Obviously not.
But when did adjectives and adverbs become the pariah of grammar?
Curious, I Googled it and discovered Mark Twain.
Well, actually I learned of him decades ago…
And that was for his novels such as Huckleberry FinnThe Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
But I’ve now discovered that Mark Twain wasn’t a big fan of adjectives and adverbs either.
In fact, he wrote about them.
Here are a few of the comments he made on the subject.


“I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English--it is the modern way and the best way.When you catch an adjective, kill it.  Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them--then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice.”  - Letter to D. W. Bowser, 3/20/1880

I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me. To misplace an adverb is a thing which I am able to do with frozen indifference; it can never give me a pang. ... There are subtleties which I cannot master at all,--they confuse me, they mean absolutely nothing to me,--and this adverb plague is one of them. ... Yes, there are things which we cannot learn, and there is no use in fretting about it. I cannot learn adverbs; and what is more I won't.” - "Reply to a Boston Girl," Atlantic Monthly, June 1880

Well, there you have it…
There are more references, but you get the point.
And on Mr. Twain’s advise…
I’ll definitely quit using too many unnecessarily flowery, gratuitously descriptive adjectives and adverbs.
There, I feel better.

Always, Em-Musing




Em-Musing a.k.a. Leigh Caron writes women's fiction for "Women who will not go gentle into their midlife." She has finished three novels in the "Em" series and is currently working on a fourth book. 

7 comments:

Elena Solodow said...

I think it's very true that a spare use of adverbs/adjectives really makes them pop when they do come up.

Jill Kemerer said...

Great post! I love the Mark Twain quotes--I hadn't heard them before!

Constance Phillips said...

Nice post, Em. I, too, had never seen the Mark Twain quotes. It shows just how ingrained those ideas are.

Linda N.J. Szymanski said...

Every time I am stopped dead on a page reading, it is from an author presenting something - perhaps a thought, a moment, an observation, an emotion that I had never before seen in quite that same light. One comment on adjectives I particularly like: "A sunset need not be painted with words of color or hue, need not be described as darkness falling upon the land for we have all experienced such a beauty as this and it is in our recollection as a picture not to be painted over by redundant words."

Jenna Rutland said...

Em, great post! When I'm editing, I actually do a scan of words ending in ly. I actually enjoy the challenge of finding a better word.

Patrice Kavanaugh said...

I've been told that adverbs are flimsy substitutes for "muscle" verbs. As in, "she walked haltingly across the street" vs. "she stutter-stepped across the street." Find the muscle, toss the "-ly" words and your writing will thank you for it! Nice post, esp. the Mark Twain quotes.

Sloan Parker said...

Interesting quotes. I also had not seen those before. Thanks for sharing! When I go back through my first draft, I really have to focus on the adjectives and try to strip them out or say something in a more specific, unique way.