Au Revoir short gray days; Bon Jour to longer gray days

With the longer days of April comes the wonderful greening of suburbia.  Specimen trees are bursting into flower, and hybridized tulips are vying with each other for my attention. Weeds and sad-looking bark aside, I love my yard!  For a brief, shining moment, our bungalow is as fine to look at as any castle.

Weeding has always been my least favorite task, but I love the feeling of having cleared out a garden, and by doing so, enable the real beauty of the different colors and textures of the leaves and branches to be admired.  The many shades of green and the textures of the different leaves are wonderful when set off by a few begonias and other annuals to add flavor to an otherwise commonplace suburban American yard.

Writing is like gardening.  We love the color and texture of adverbs and adjectives in our work, but we must be sparing, or they take over and cheapen the whole thing.  It is so easy to wax poetic when we describe the eyes of our heroine – but DON’T DO IT!

Thou shalt not gag thy beta readers.

Let’s think about this for a moment.  Over 100 years ago Mark Twain had this same difficulty. He said, in the June 1880 issue of ‘Atlantic Monthly’, “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.”

In my own work I have noticed a steady progression toward the leaner style of prose.  The art of walking the knife’s edge of adverbs is difficult, but one that I intend to master.  But as in all things, before we can master it we need to understand what an adverb is.

Encarta defines Adverb as “a word that modifies a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence, e.g. “happily,” “very,” or “frankly”. “

Miriam Webster defines adverb as (and again I quote)

a word belonging to one of the major form classes in any of numerous languages, typically serving as a modifier of a verb, an adjective, another adverb, a preposition, a phrase, a clause, or a sentence, expressing some relation of manner or quality, place, time, degree, number, cause, opposition, affirmation, or denial, and in English also serving to connect and to express comment on clause content.”
What happens to us as writers is that we quickly get to the point where our characters are happily engaged in very dangerous situations, frequently smiling wryly at each other.

Thus the eternal quest for the leaner, meaner style of prose that will engage the reader and drive the storyline.

My first drafts and even my second drafts are littered with these literary  corpses.  Setting the manuscript aside and coming back to it later is for me the best way to deal with this.  I will then do a ‘control + F’ (find) first for the word ‘very’, and eliminate all but the most necessary instances of that word.  (That word is my big bugaboo – for some reason it litters my work).

Then I do the same for the letters ‘ly’.  I look at each instance of words that end in ‘ly’ and 9 times out of 10 I delete that word and find a different way to convey that thought.

Writing is such a journey.  I may never be a master at this craft, but I will continue to hone my skills for as long as I am here in this dimension.  I highly recommend that a new author read several books on the craft of writing, each one written by well-known authors. Those which have been the most help to me are:

On Writing by Stephen King





Characters & Viewpoint by Orson Scott Card 


I hope that you will avail yourself of the knowlege that lurks within these pages!  Both men are giants, in my opinion and to be able to pick their brains on the craft of writing is an incredible opportunity!

Happy writing!


1 Comment

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One response to “Au Revoir short gray days; Bon Jour to longer gray days

  1. I have a copy of Stephen King’s ON WRITING — excellent!