Monday, October 8, 2012

The Controversy Over Adverbs

So here I am back in a writing class and I turn in my paper, which has very few adverbs for the entire piece, and the teachers announces that adverbs are our enemies. Well, she didn't actually say that they were something to loose sleep over, her main idea was that adverbs muddy up the clean water and cause clear writing to become hazy.

I always enjoyed saying how the cat bounced playfully onto the bed and dug its claws deep into my skin. But just like a cat's claw, that playful bounce becomes a prick into my writing skin as the red editing pen comes out to dash away the playful part of the bounce. My question is, if you want to be concise and say it was a playful bounce, why go around the block three times by saying: The cat was in a playful mood and jumped up on the bed. Blah, blah, blah, etc. Do you get what I'm saying? Using an adverb, I eliminated the need for extra sentences and got my meaning across in a direct manner.

Perhaps brevity isn't what my teacher is looking for. Of course, I never said I was an expert on grammar. Ask my sister, Loretta (Art By Retta), and she will tell you how poor my grammar was when I first attempted to share my stories. If anyone could be an editor in my family, it would be her. But it seems to me that adverbs were created for a reason in the English language, and it couldn't be to just cut them out of everything. I suppose I'll have to persevere and do my own research on the subject. After all, I seem to remember at least a few prominent authors who were willing to risk the editor's slice and have faithfully added a few adverbs.

We must learn the rules before we can break them. And we can offer up a resounding hooray for any adverbs that slip through the editor's pen.

12 comments:

  1. I always worry about my adverb use. When I don't use any adverbs, my writing sounds too bland to me. Yet I know too many of them do get in the way. In the end, we all do the best we can and hope the editor's pen is merciful.

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    1. I can agree with you about the blandness, but I'm learning better ways to express myself through this learning experience.

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  2. In the art world, the "adverb" equivalent would probably be Details. There is a huge controversy over including too much detail in a painting. One side insists: the less "clutter" the better. Another side: LOVE of details. And all amounts in between.

    Me? I love detail! Yet have been criticized for using too much. And what a coinkydink... I also love colorful and descriptive writing! If the point is communication of an idea, then why criticize a writer for using whatever device to get across a clear vision?! Bring on the adverbs and adjectives. :-)

    I think I agree with you... just as they warn beginning artists to learn the "rules" first, so that later you can break them on purpose and not in ignorance, it sounds like the same might be true in your field.



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    1. Thank you for the vivid description from the world of art. I've seen your paintings and I don't think they are cluttered. So maybe I'm leaning more to the descriptive writing of adverbs.
      Some people say: Less is more. But I still have to add the descriptive terms to get my point across. Within reason, of course.

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  3. It's a fine line between proper usage and amount and going overboard. I think few really nail it.

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    1. I agree that a few well placed words gets the point across. Even the masters have resprted to the use of adverbs.

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  4. I see these 'rules' more as helpful guidelines than gospel. Sometimes there's better ways to describe something, and sometimes there's not. The key is probably finding the balance (like in so many things.) :)

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    1. Yes! Balance is the key. You nailed it on the head.

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  5. I like the idea of guidelines rather than hard rules.

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    1. Susan: So do I. Guidelines are easier to follow I think.

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  6. From what I figured out, when learning to show and not tell, adverbs should be avoided. Later, when you've got that showing more down to habit, some can creep back in, but use them like you would exclamation points, sparingly. Does that make sense? If it's something you want to dwell on, then you show, show, show. If it's not very important to the story, then I think an adverb can be very appropriate -- or if the showing in that point gets the prose off-track, then I think the short adverb is better.

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    1. M Pax: Thank you for sharing this. I could liken it to using a pinch of salt in a recipe. You only need a little bit.

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