To keep my head from exploding, stay on track, and improve my weak sauce skills, I have been reading books about writing and listening to podcasts from author friendly sources like Writing Excuses while I hammer out the last bit of my novel. One of the books I am finishing now is Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. I actually did a blog post about this book once before here, but hell, the book is good enough to mention twice.
So here’s the rub. My name is Corey, and I am addicted to using -ly adverbs in dialogue. This addiction has, and will, affect me in the following ways. I will spend hours and hours fixing this in re-writes (after the first draft is done). The realization of my addiction has shriveled my precious pint-sized ego in ways a cold shower could never replicate. If not corrected, according to Browne and King, I will be nothing more then a hack writer of fiction. Let’s cut into it!
Browne and King provide these examples:
“I’m afraid it’s not going very well,” he said grimly.
“Keep scrubbing until you’re finished,” she said harshly.
“I don’t know, I can’t seem to work up the steam to do any thing at all,” he said listlessly.
They continue on to explain, “Perhaps it’s a lack of confidence on the writer’s part, perhaps it’s simple laziness, or perhaps it’s a misguided attempt to break up the monotony of using the unadorned said all the time, but all too many fiction writers tend to pepper their dialogue with -ly’s” (p. 87).
Now lets take a look at my hack fiction, slather on some Neosporin, wrap it in some maxi-pads and duct tape, and back away slowly. Here are some randomly selected excerpts from Wastelander: The Drake Legacy.
“Easy kid, I’m from Stanley Station just like you. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time, just like you” I replied calmly. The use of calmly is pointless here. The commas I used in the dialogue to break up what Drake is saying reflects the idea that he is, at the very least portraying, calm.
“The kid’s name is Jim. He was with a hunting party” I replied impatiently, shielding my eye from the spotlight. “You going to let us in or what?” Again, I don’t need to put impatiently in here. It’s obvious Drake is impatient or he wouldn’t have followed with, “You going to let us in or what?”
“So where does that leave us,” I replied coldly. Drake has just realized the person he is talking to may want to do him harm. It’s obvious to the reader. He doesn’t need to reply coldly, because the statement has an undertone of coldness to it.
Lament with me brothers and sisters, lament and rejoice! Another of my amateur techniques has been slain, and a slightly more polished writer emerges – stronger, better, faster.
I write this post with a hint of irony because when I edit these adverbs jump out at me. Does every adverb have to be annihilated? Not at all. Sometimes there is no better word than an adverb. But when the adverb is redundant, why waste the words?
Regardless, when I write those pesky -ly adverbs seem to effortlessly worm their way in. I encourage you to save yourself heartache and time by avoiding the adverb addiction. An adverb here and there is okay, but beware the sudden adverb explosions. Good luck in your work and until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!