Saturday, March 13, 2010

Self-Editing: Part 3

(This series begins with Part 1.)

III. Adverbs

Stephen King says the road to hell is paved with adverbs. Noah Lukeman, an agent whose clients include Pulitzer Prize nominees and American Book Award winners, says in his excellent book, The First Five Pages, that one of the quickest and easiest ways for an editor or an agent to decide to reject a manuscript is to look for the overuse, or misuse, of adjectives and adverbs.

DO NOT think that you can bring your nouns and verbs to life by piling on the adjectives and adverbs. Adverbs and adjectives seldom add vigor, but they are quite good at leeching the life from writing.

Use the Find feature on your computer to search for "ly" adverbs. Just type in the two letters, LY, and hit "Find." You'll catch other words like "family" and "lying," but you'll mostly turn up the weeds, the leeches, like "actually," "really," "fully," "hopefully," "apparently."

Look hard at each of those and cut all of them that you possibly can. Maybe you do need them in some cases, but much of the time they can come out, and your writing will be stronger for it.

Searching for "ly" adverbs will show you if you're prone to sticking adverbs onto identifiers: He said wearily. She said hastily. "Said" is a nearly invisible word to the reader; the eyes skim over "he said," "she said." Don't slow the reader (and the dialogue) by tacking adverbs onto "said."

Sometimes, though, we writers do get mighty tired of "said" and want to spice it up. Do so sparingly, and do it with strong verbs, not with adverbs tacked on:

She snapped -- Not -- She said sharply
He yelled -- Not -- He said loudly

Thin to an absolute minimum "ly" adverbs throughout the text. Replace them with strong verbs.

She raced -- Not -- She ran quickly
He scoured -- Not -- He searched thoroughly

Etc.

Next post: Part 4

1 comment:

  1. I use the AutoCrit Editing Wizard to find all the LY adverbs.It's great at spotting all types of overused words as well as slow pacing, etc. It can even show you all your dialogue tags so you can make sure you are not overdoing the 'yelled' and 'snapped' :-)

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