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"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.


  1. Good for you on taking that kicked-in-the-gut feeling and using it to make your writing neater, cleaner and stronger! That's what counts!

  2. Thanks Steena,
    I should have taken the initiative to refresh myself on grammar usage and punctuation before I began writing my novel. I would have saved myself countless hours of editing. Hey, you live and learn.

  3. I so agree, Steena! I think the ability to respond to criticism well is a hallmark of good writers. Bravo, Andrea.

    I've read lots of agent and editor blogs that talk about how much they value a client who can rewrite well.

  4. Thanks Sarah, re-writing seems to be the name of the game. The first draft gets the writer's thoughts down on paper, then re-writing polishes them.

    I think it is difficult to remain objective about my work. Without input from other authors and beta readers I'd be writing blind. This also means I have to be open to criticism, guess I'd better develop a thick skin.

  5. Thick skin appears to be a pre-requisite for any writer. I know I have to develop a thicker one. Really helpful post on adverbs/strong verbs as I think it is a fault ofmine that makes my sentences clumsy.
    Thank you

  6. Thanks Michelle,
    I think the use of adverbs is more acceptable in technical writing than fiction. In creative writing an author must show the reader the scene being described. This requires more of a play on words.

    For example, In Elle Newmark's debut novel, "The Book of Unholy Mischief." She describes Venice from the eyes of her main character, a young orphan boy:
    "I was a true child of Venice, weaned on her mysterious beauty, her watery light shifting like magician's mirrors. Venice had seduced me with her female anatomy, with her liquid channels and her maze of voluptuous temptations. Venice excites a desire to know what is hidden, a lust to penetrate her charms, a wish to know all her darkest secrets."

    I love this description, it is eloquent and gripping. Although the author's style differs from mine, I can appreciate the beauty in her prose. Something to aspire to. Thanks for commenting. Good luck in overcoming your "Ly demons."

  7. You might want to check out the AutoCrit Editing Wizard. It finds overused adverbs plus a whole lot of other 'first draft' problems. It really helps me tighten my manuscript. I love it :-)

  8. Hi Janine, welcome to Aspiring Novelists. Also, thanks for the helpful feedback.
    I will google the "Auto Crit Editing Wizard," in the a.m.


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