Writing Wednesday: Adverbs & Other Bogeymen Exposed
There was some group of writers calling themselves “hookers” (Lord only knows why) who kept posting to my Twitter feed twelve times a day with the same lousy thing. One of their articles, which out of principle I didn’t read, was about how much they hated adverbs.
Some people on their blogs like to get out their pitchforks and torches and go after the poor adverb. Why? Because it’s one of the Big Myths agents/publishers sell. “Eliminate your adverbs!” they scream at writing conferences and on their blogs. “Adverbs are tools of the Devil!” Someone’s probably tried to have an exorcism for adverbs by now.
But when you actually read novels, you see the Big Myth for just that, a myth. Adverbs are everywhere! When I read “Dracula,” there were adverbs. When I read “Life of Pi” which won the Man Booker Prize, there were adverbs. Go ahead and open any book and you’ll find adverbs.
So, yeah, adverbs ain’t so evil after all.
The point isn’t only that agents and editors are huge hypocrites when it comes to the “rules;” the point is also that people don’t really care about adverbs and other horrors agents/editors like to go on about. I mean, did you just cringe or pull out your hair when I used the word “really”? If so, really? Really? Come on!
Chances are you didn’t because you don’t really care about adverbs. Not even the dumb ones used in dialog tags. As a writer you might be more sensitive to it, but go find some non-writer friends and asked them what they thought of the adverbs. First they’d probably ask, “What the hell is an adverb?” After you explain it, they’d probably just shrug.
Case in point was when I read “The Way Life Should Be” by Terry Shaw a couple months ago. I bought the book because it won the first (and possibly only) Gather writing competition. It was only $3.49 at Bargain Books, so what the hell.
Now, do you suppose there were adverbs in this prize-winning book? Of course there were! There were also one-dimensional characters, “head-hopping” during scenes, and a plain vanilla plot ripped straight out of “Murder She Wrote.” Did that stop it from winning the contest and thus publication? Of course not!
Out of hundreds or thousands of applicants it prevailed. Now maybe it was because the author had a lot of “friends” to stuff the ballot box or maybe it’s because your average reader is not your average writer and thus hasn’t had his/her head stuffed with adverb bias and all the other supposed “sins” that agents/editors go on about. Obviously I’m going with the latter explanation. People just want an entertaining story. It doesn’t have to be unique or fresh or adverb-free. It just has to be interesting enough to keep them engrossed for a few hours between reruns of “Two and a Half Men.”
Not that you want to put adverbs every other word–that would be really really really really dumb–but don’t sweat it if you haven’t eliminated every single one. Chances are no one’s really going to care.
I mean really, did my flagrant use of adverbs deter your enjoyment of this post? If so, then you need help.
Friday: Why good things DON’T come in small packages for sequels…