Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Notes on Craft

"Adverbs are not your friend."

- Stephen King
Words Fail Me: What Everyone Who Writes Should Know about WritingToday my students and I will talk about "verbs that zing" and ones that "wimp out" courtesy of Patricia O'Conner and her lovely book on writing Words Fail Me. She also wrote Woe Is I (grammar for grammarphobes) which I have just obtained a copy of but have not yet read. One of these will be assigned in its entirety to my students next fall.

O'Conner is witty. She talks about verbs that feel like a dead fish or a limp handshake. Why say fell quickly when plummeted serves your purpose so much more aptly and in one less word?

Which brings us to the Stephen King quote from On Writing, seen at the top of this post: adverbs are not your friend.

I will reiterate what King and O'Conner and many a creative writing instructor has said: if you have to say it with an adverb then you're not saying it right.

Adverbs clutter up the writing as they attempt to make up for lackluster verbs. By definition, the job of an adverb is to modify the verb so that the meaning is altered. But there are so many great verbs out there to use plain, why attach modifiers to them? It's like buying a low end computer and then buying an upgrade for the motherboard, some kick ass speakers and replacing the monitor, then getting one of those ergonomic keyboards. Why didn't you just spend the money getting a nicer computer than spend the same about of money (in addition to your time searching out those "extras") as you did with the piecemeal contraption you've now made?

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