THURSDAY MORNING COFFEE – The Dreaded “-ly Adverbs”

IMG_2606 I got my first laptop ten years ago. That’s when I started writing. It was a very serious novel, and I had to get all the parts just right the first time around. (Are you laughing?? Geez.) Anyhow, I made it my business to read all there was on “how to write.” Unlike most of you out there, I didn’t learn how to write in school. English is my third or possibly even fourth language, and I spent my high school years with a fat dictionary tucked under my arm. What use was it to write, when I could barely speak? There are some good books out there. Stephen King’s “On Writing” is one of them. The Writer’s Digest has several articles on writing in every issue, and I made it my business to read every one of those. Their conflicting advice screwed me up something fierce. My big-book thriller never happened. Stephen King resounded in my mind, though. According to him, using  –ly adverbs (such as “silently” or “hungrily”) slows down the flow. I envision them like barbs that cause the sentence to drag on the surrounding scenery. Besides, -ly adverbs are an opportunity to rephrase the sentiment in a way that shows something about the character, the setting, or the problem. According to Mr. King, -ly adverbs are just lazy writing and there is always a better way.   I have maligned these words for the last ten years. I edited them out, wrote around them, I flagged them in the manuscripts of other writers. Most of the time, I was right. There always seemed to be a better, faster-paced, more evocative way to say something. And then I started seeing them. Top writers are using –ly adverbs. My jaw hit the floor so hard, my husband felt the shock in the office next door. “What happened? You okay?” He asked. I shrugged and rubbed my chin. “Here, look!” He bent over and read the sentence out-loud. “What about it?” “He used an –ly adverb,” I said, still feeling somewhat stunned. “And it worked! It slowed the pacing down… I bet it was on purpose.” Only weeks later, a favorite writer of mine used no less than three –ly adverbs in one sentence. It was one of those languid, sensuous passages and there was no doubt in my mind that this mistress of crime fiction and fast-paced suspense used these words with great deliberation. I felt my resolve waver. If these big names can use –ly adverbs to slow down the plot on purpose, to make me pause and relish the sensual layering of the setting, then… there must be a way to do it right.   I started using –ly adverbs. Slowly, cautiously, like a naked swimmer in midwinter, easing my way into a rushing, icy stream. Sparingly. Always sparingly.

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One Response to THURSDAY MORNING COFFEE – The Dreaded “-ly Adverbs”

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