Saturday, March 6, 2010

"LY" Devils

Hello All,

I hope this post finds you well. The past couple of weeks have taught me several lessons in writing which I would like to share. As most of you know, I submitted the first page of my work in progress for critique over at Slushbusters. For those who have never had their work assessed, believe me when I tell you it is a pride swallowing experience.  Nevertheless, it was also helpful in identifying weaknesses in my writing, of which there were more than I care to admit. Some of the most egregious errors were my overuse of adjectives and adverbs. I also found that I needed to pay closer attention to punctuation.

I walked away from the critique feeling like I had been kicked in the stomach. First came denial; I thought what do they know anyway? This was followed by self deprecation - I suck, my novel will never be published, I may as well give up. Then after a day of pouting, I accepted the truth and decided to revise my page, which in my opinion was a significant improvement on the first draft.

Before tackling my mistakes, I decided it would be prudent to refresh myself on the English language.  I slinked to Books A Million and purchased a couple books on writing. What I learned proved invaluable. According to Michael Harvey, author of Nuts and Bolts in College Writing, adverbs are the most misused part of speech in college essays. He says students employ a noun heavy writing style and use weak verbs. To compensate, they tack on adverbs hoping to add intensity and precision, instead they wind up with flat, dull sentences. Essentially, overuse of adverbs is poor writing in fiction. Harvey provided the following examples to illustrate his point:

Original: Antony plays on the crowds emotions and successfully obtains their support.

Revision: Antony plays on the crowd’s emotions and wins their support.

Notice the writer replaced the adverb with a strong verb, resulting in a cleaner sentence.

Karen Schroeder, author of Purple Prose: Adjectives and Adverbs explains that replacing adverbs with strong verbs adds more emphasis to a sentence. She provides the following example to illustrate her point.

Original: Frowning angrily, she moved hurriedly towards him, saying very harshly, “You Bastard!”

Notice how “flowery” the sentence is. Now read how strong verbs make it more concise and place more emphasis on emotion.

Revision: Scowling, she stalks toward him. “You bastard!”

After reading the above noted books, I used the “Edit-Find” feature on my computer and typed “ly” into the heading. I discovered my manuscript was plagued with adverbs. Although a few sprinkled here and there are not bad, overuse can cause writing to sound forced and unnatural. Needless to say, I spent hours replacing those sentences containing the “ly devils” with strong verbs.

Now I have a manuscript which I think is cleaner and more streamlined. I’m sure this lesson is second nature to many of you writers who have participated in an English class within the last ten years. However, for me, it has been a long time since I had a lesson in grammar. For what it’s worth, a refresher course proved invaluable. Until next time, happy writing.