Tuesday, 22 April 2014

ON BEHALF OF THE ADVERB


I feel like a wee ant going up against a colossus, but today’s post is about something which bugs me. So, here goes. Fashion goes in cycles – one year something is in, the following year, it’s out. Education also promotes various initiatives which find favour for a while, before being discarded. Literary style is no different. If you take a writing course, one piece of advice your tutor will give is remove your adverbs and replace them with stronger verbs.

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
(Page 1, paragraph 1, sentence 1.)
The twelve men congregated in the smoking room of the Crown Hotel gave the impression of a party accidentally met.
(Winner of the Man Booker prize 2013. P.S. She also used ‘bodily’ in the second sentence.)

If you challenge this current wisdom, you’ll hear that adverbs tell, and don’t show, that they bog down and over-complicate whatever it is you are trying to say. Adverbs are the tools of the weak and the lazy.
 
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
(Page 1 paragraph 3)
Mrs. Southcott had recently attained her five-and-twentieth blessed birthday....
 (This book heads Wikipedia’s list of the bestselling books of all time – with over 100 million copies sold. P.S. The same paragraph has another two adverbs – supernaturally and lately.)

When studying English grammar, first nouns and adjectives, then verbs and adverbs are the normal order in which we teach these parts of speech to young children. We wouldn’t dream of saying, adverbs describe verbs, but you must never use them in writing, though you can when you’re talking to each other. So why are writers informed that this particular part of speech is not welcome at the literary dining table?

Harvest by Jim Crace
(Page 1, paragraph 1.)
It rises in a column that hardly bends or thins until it clears the canopies.
(Booker prize short list 2013)

I understand the modern penchant for concise prose ala Hemingway and that long descriptive passages are no longer in vogue, and if the advice given was to use adverbs sparingly, I’d agree without reservation – but to eliminate? Isn’t this a tad drastic?

We are told to make our verbs work harder. The image of a brawny overseer, a flashing Word Police sign emblazoned on his uniform, wielding a razor tipped whip over a line of cowering verbs, while those abject sinners marked with that telltale ‘ly’ are lined up against the wall and executed springs to mind.

Will adjectives will be the next in line? Maybe the new wisdom will be don’t use more than one at any given time? For the moment adjectives have a reprieve. Although I do wonder how the sentence snot-nose, tousled-haired, raggedy Ann dressed orphan would be received by the anti-adverb posse?

The Old Man of the Sea by Earnest Hemingway
(Page 1 paragraph 1)
...the old man was now definitely and finally...

In their defence, adverbs are versatile. They modify adjectives and verbs, and function as transitional conjunctive adverbs between two independent clauses in a sentence (however, nonetheless, etc., etc.). I have noticed that most articles deriding their use are sprinkled with them. Henry James loved adverbs, and although Stephen King dislikes them, he still uses them.

Joyland by Stephen King
(Page 1 paragraph 1)
The only thing, actually.
(Joyland was published in 2013.)

You know by now where I’m headed with this post. I’ve done my best to show that past and present writers, whose works literary critics and the public hold up as examples in terms of style, content and popularity made use of the humble, much maligned adverb. And just to emphasize my point, I’ve added this last example.

Life after Life by Kate Atkinson
(Page 1 Paragraph 2)
Everyone knew that he preferred his women demure and wholesome, Bavarian preferably.
(Booker prize short list 2013. P.S. There are three in paragraph 3 – softly, manly, currently, and two in paragraph 4 – slowly, eventually.)

In conclusion, adverbs are part of our language, therefore how can we write stories which reflect life without using them? Instead of banning, shouldn’t we employ them judiciously? If we treat them like precious gems rather than pariahs, they will enhance our writing.

Writing Update

I had hoped to finish my break up story – but I’m still tweaking, making sure the main character is believable. And I’m almost finished editing the second chapter of Unknown Planet. This week’s to do list includes research for Vance the Vamp. Next week, back to my supernatural adventure for a read through to see where the results need to be added.

During the last month, I took one day off a week from social media to allow myself some breathing space, and found it helped keep everything a bit more in perspective. Overall progress is steady, although I always have more to do!

Today’s Haiku
raucous dawn chorus
pine trees stand to attention
pale gold sun rises

Useful Links
An article defending the adverb:
And an article in defence of difficult books:
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/17/in-defense-of-difficult-b_n_5128657.html

I’d love it if you popped over to Wattpad and read my two stories...more coming shortly!

Join me on Twitter at: teagankearney@modhaiku

Thanks for visiting my blog, and please do leave a comment.
To all story lovers out there, good reading, and to those of you who write, good writing! .

P.S. I've spent 45 minutes trying to get the web page to correct the spacing in one of the paragraphs - I give up! Apologies - with handfuls of hair in my hands - as I do work hard on the presentation...


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Apart from writing, I'm compiling a bucket list of places I'd like to  visit...from Iceland to Hawaii and onwards....
         

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