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Old 04-06-2009, 02:14 PM   #1
phenomshel
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Ok, I just HAVE to ask...

What the freakin' heck is wrong with adverbs? Stephen King insists the "way to hell is paved with adverbs", my English Comp. professor quotes him constantly, and me, I'm left thinking that adverbs are surely part of the English language for a reason...

I'll be the first to tell you I am NOT a writer. However, neither am I illiterate, I can get my point across when need be.

Some of you writers enlighten me, please?
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Old 04-06-2009, 03:28 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by phenomshel View Post
What the freakin' heck is wrong with adverbs? Stephen King insists the "way to hell is paved with adverbs", my English Comp. professor quotes him constantly, and me, I'm left thinking that adverbs are surely part of the English language for a reason...

I'll be the first to tell you I am NOT a writer. However, neither am I illiterate, I can get my point across when need be.

Some of you writers enlighten me, please?
Stephen King objects to many things in his book "On Writing", it's a pity he doesn't follow through on those self-made rules most of the time. That minor irritant aside, what I think he's driving at is passivity and unclear writing when he mentions adverbs.

Take for instance these two sentences:

1. He ran quickly toward the burning building.

2. He ran toward the burning building.

The problem with the adverb in this sentence is that it's not needed, it's redundant as it is in many cases. To run is to move with speed, you can't run slowly. To run slowly is to jog. It would be the same as using "He jogged slowly.' The adverb is also used in a lazy fashion in place of actual, in-time events. Like a shorthand for actual descriptive action.

He boldly walked to the far side of the room.

Chest out, chin high, all the importance of his position in each step, he strode to the far side of the room.

But more so, I think King is talking about speech attribution when he talks of adverbs. Again two more examples.

1. "I'm sick and tired of this bullshit!' Pico said angrily.

2. "I'm sick and tired of this bullshit!" Pico said.

We don't need to know Pico is angry, his words provide that emotion, and so should his actions, interior monologue, the framing of the events within the story.

I think, but I'm not a hundred percent sure on this, but the common -ly ending of a lot of adverbs have their roots in a German word for dead, or corpse. A linguist would be able to tell you more about this, I only remember it in passing.

It's been a long time since I've thought consciously of grammar when I write, but I seem to remember when an adverb is used in attribution it is also known as a "Swifty". Actually, that might be in "On Writing"

Here's a few more examples from my own writing:

How it might be written (if you were insane)

1. The machine rose threateningly above the horizon. The machinery no longer turned. Its eyes were shut, positively shut.

How I wrote it (and I am insane)

2. Looming over the horizon, the machine was as silent as shadows. The great turning of secret and hidden guts no longer turned. The burning fire of its eyes extinguished, closed in the dead weight of mechanical sleep.

Last edited by Moejoe; 04-06-2009 at 03:46 PM.
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Old 04-06-2009, 04:20 PM   #3
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Thanks Moe. Nice to know we share a personality trait (insanity).
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Old 04-06-2009, 04:24 PM   #4
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All writers will present you a list of rules... and then break them. Most writing is about knowing when to break the rules and when not to. So adverbs are fine; it's just that most beginning writers overuse them, so they're warned away from them.
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Old 04-06-2009, 04:25 PM   #5
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Thanks Moe. Nice to know we share a personality trait (insanity).
Oh most definitely

As an aside, you'll find passive writing in a lot of commercially successful novels. I tend to see it most often in the few romances I've skimmed through, and a few blockbuster thrillers. Also, Stephen King, despite his protestations, is not averse to using a a Swifty or two in his own work.
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Old 04-06-2009, 07:36 PM   #6
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I think that the proscription against adverbs is to curb the tendency to tell instead of show. I think that there is a place for adverbs, just as there is a place for the much-maligned passive voice.
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Old 04-06-2009, 10:03 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by sirbruce View Post
All writers will present you a list of rules... and then break them. Most writing is about knowing when to break the rules and when not to.
...
I agree completely, and I think you can swap-out the word "writers" with "artists". I don't know why people are so keen to say "rules" when they usually mean "guidelines". I think it just confuses the hell out of the student (I include myself) when they see broken rules, or even break the rules themselves, and feel that the result not only works but works better.

Cheers,
Marc (who barely uses the "rules" of photography even as guidelines anymore)
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Old 04-06-2009, 11:17 PM   #8
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Adverbs are good for speech but not so good for writing. That's why they're in our language, they abbreviate for us. If I want to tell you something, but I'm not trying to tell a grand story, my speech will most likely be littered with adverbs. In writing, however, they tend to take out the action that the writer needs to show. With good writing, the reader intuits what is happening naturally, with adverb heavy writing, he has it shoved down his throat--brutally.
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Old 04-06-2009, 11:26 PM   #9
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I don't know why people are so keen to say "rules" when they usually mean "guidelines".
There is a psychology to the choice between the words 'guidelines' and 'rules.' Guidelines are there to provide suggestions but you can ignore them if you want where rules are there to be followed, or else. Breaking or ignoring a guideline isn't much to ponder whereas breaking a rule requires a more conscious consideration and, if you were taught well, a critical analysis of 'is this better or more proper, why, and can I defend it?'

Much like our legal system, laws (rules) matter but there are exigent circumstances where you clearly violated the precept but in a forgivable way.
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Old 04-14-2009, 05:49 AM   #10
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There is a psychology to the choice between the words 'guidelines' and 'rules.' Guidelines are there to provide suggestions but you can ignore them if you want where rules are there to be followed, or else. Breaking or ignoring a guideline isn't much to ponder whereas breaking a rule requires a more conscious consideration and, if you were taught well, a critical analysis of 'is this better or more proper, why, and can I defend it?'
I think it's also because so much of amateur writing is simply *awful*. I consider myself an above-average writer and the first short story I ever had published online was a real stinker. The rules are presented as rules because so many beginning writers will do much better following them (and provide less headaches for their teacher/editor/reviewer/whathaveyou).
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