Posts tagged language
A Sprinkling of Adverbs: 5 Appropriate Uses

 Adverbs. People hate them. Stephen King hates them. Writing bloggers all across the Internet hate them. Some of my writing professors even hated them. Adverbs are the cockroach of language, apparently. But what's the big deal? Why do adverbs have such a bad rap when they have a purpose and place just like any other part of language? Of course, like any other type of word, you don't want to rely to heavily on adverbs. No "Susie cautiously walked lightly to the poorly lit, haphazardly perched treehouse" type sentences, please. Four adverbs in one sentence is just a bit much. But a story won't suffer from a sprinkling of adverbs here and there. I'd venture to say a well-used adverb enhances writing rather than takes away. And what makes an adverb well-used?

  1. It clarifies rather than confuses. Some types of adverbs are particularly guilty of contributing to vague language. Examples: sort of, kind of, somewhat, to some extent. All of these are adverb phrases that don't do much for a sentence. If you must qualify with an adverb, try one that targets your actual meaning rather than a vague idea. 
  2. It's necessary. In writing, there are times in which an adverb changes the entire meaning/feeling of a sentence. It may be necessary to use an adverb to show an action the way you want it to be shown. For example, you might say, "Timmy stared at Sally." But is Timmy staring longingly? Angrily? Hopefully? Sometimes, as we all know, that matters. Of course, there's always a way to make a sentence adverb-free—"Timmy stared at Sally, eyes wide with fear." or something of the sort— which brings us to the next point.
  3. It's efficient. There may be a hundred different ways to say the same thing, but the best one to choose is the one that streamlines the readability of your work. Sometimes that involves an adverb. Perhaps you have four adverb-less sentences already, and you need a snappy alternative for sentence number five. Whatever the case, don't be afraid to use an adverb if you need to.
  4. It's right. Occasionally, as writers, there are things that just sound "right." We may not be able to explain it, but we know that a sentence or a word is simply meant to be. If an adverb is what's right, it's right. Don't let conventional writing "rules" hold you back.
  5. In dialogue. I implore you: please use adverbs in your dialogue. Forget all the points above and just use them, even if they're vague, inefficient, unnecessary and wrong. Why? Because humans often say things that are vague, inefficient, unnecessary and wrong. Hardly anyone speaks like a narrator all the time. For dialogue to be effective, it must be real. And real people say "kind of." Real people don't say things like, "Timmy stared at Sally, eyes wide with fear." So please, when your character is having a conversation, use adverbs at will, just as you would in life. Make it believable.

How do you feel about adverbs? Useful tool or Language Cockroach? Let me know what you think!

Today's Prompt: Write a one to two page story entirely without the use of adverbs. Include at least one conversation in your story.

Happy Writing!


Constructive Criticism and Making Choices

Once, when I shared the opening chapter of Ourselves and Others with a fiction writer's group, a well-intentioned group member suggested that I change one word in the first line, which is as follows:

She met him when her bones were strong and her mind was sick—like a brand new house set on a crumbling foundation.

The word in question was "sick." From his perspective, "sick" was almost the right word, but not quite. It was "lightning bug" instead of "lightning." In its place, he suggested "weak." To him, I had used the wrong word because he believed I was trying to convey the opposite of "strong." Anyone who's been to first grade knows the exact opposite of "strong" is "weak," right? And yet I hadn't used it.

So I thought about his suggestion—there is a certain parallelism to using exact opposites, after all. I tried it out in my head and on paper, but no matter how I looked at it, "weak" could not win me over. To me, it was the flickering pinprick flash of a lightning bug when I wanted the power of lightning. I hadn't been trying to convey exact opposites in the first place. I used "sick" because it evoked the emotions and associations that were right for the story. "Weak" just didn't give the vibes I wanted to give. So "sick" stayed.

Book pages may be black and white, but writing is not. The "right" word is entirely subjective. Where one person sees lightning, at least one other person is guaranteed to see lightning bugs. Still, feedback remains an amazing thing. Every piece of advice you receive, you should consider carefully. Some suggestions may lead to changes that strengthen your work, while others reinforce confidence in the choices you originally made. There is no bad side to constructive criticism. However, in a world where right and wrong are so subjective, someone has to choose what is what. Ultimately, that's you, the author. You choose what's right and what's wrong for your writing and you take responsibility for those choices. You're the only one who really knows what your story should say, look like, and feel like. So stay true to your voice; don't exchange your lightning for someone else's, because you might find you've gotten lightning bugs instead.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story that takes place in the midst of a terrible lightning storm. Replace every use of the word "lightning" with "lightning bug."

Happy Writing!


Language is Everything (Quote of the Day)

  I've said often that I love language, and this is part of the reason why. So much of what we know about ourselves comes down to words. I would say that language is one of the most (if not the most) fundamental parts of our society. Without it, I highly doubt we would ever have become what we are today; and even if somehow we did, there would be no way to appreciate or remember that. I wouldn't be writing this; you wouldn't be reading. Books and ballads and relationships would cease to exist. As Hermann Hesse said, there could be no concept of humanity. Language isn't just important; language is everything.

Today's Prompt: Write a short story with at least three characters, but no dialogue.

Happy Writing!


Ditching the "Very": The Diversity of Language (Quote of the Day)

I have literally zero minutes today, so here's a short snippet of wisdom from Mark Twain. Language is vast, with a multitude of beautiful facets to it. Don't stoop to 'very' just because it's there and it's easy. Have some dignity! Reach a little. If you must have something, try "extremely," "undeniably," or "indubitably"—or here's a thought: allow whatever word your "very" would precede to stand alone. Most words can do their own fighting and don't need a "very" to back them up. Give your language a chance to shine!

Today's prompt: The quote is the prompt! Write a short story on a subject of your choosing, following Mark Twain's advice. 

Happy Writing!


Utilizing Metaphor in Writing (Poetry Prompt/Quote of the Day)

Instead of a quote, I've decided to share one of my own poems with you today. I wrote this a couple years ago in response to a prompt similar to the one I'll give you today, and I've carried it with me ever since! Funny how writing prompts can turn out some of our favorite work, isn't it?

The point of this prompt is to write about one thing without really writing about that thing. In other words: utilizing metaphor. Metaphor is a wonderful tool for the writer. It enhances narrative as well as poetry, and gives a beautiful depth that you just can't get from a completely straightforward approach (or at least that's my humble opinion).

If the text in the image is unclear to anyone, here it is again:

Morning mist like milk surrounds us.
We drink it; bathe in it
until the sun dries our bones.
Even after it has evaporated into midday
our clothes cling to us
as we cling to one another,
saturated with the memory of dawn.

In some approaching hour
twilight will drip on us like honey:
thick, sweet, and golden.
By dark it will have trickled to our feet
and we will stand in puddles of nectar,
soaked through and waiting;
Anticipating midnight's silent arrival.

At that moment I will hold to you,
recall daybreak, and say assured,
"I loved you well in morning mist,
but now I love you better."

So now that you've seen my take, here's the prompt itself. Have fun with this one!

Today's Prompt: Write a poem about change, growth, and the passage of time. You may not use any form of the words "change," "growth," or "time."

Happy Writing!


Quote of the Day--Alice Walker

retroflowerwreath How many of you novelists out there got your start writing poetry?

*Raises hand*

For me, it was awful, teenage-angsty poetry about death and blood and my oh-so-horrible feelings and stuff. Happily, I eventually transitioned into poems that read more like this and less like Poe on Xanax and whiskey. Now, as Alice Walker says, I've gotten into writing novels, and that poetry is deeply engrained in everything I write.

I love language; I love the way I can harness it and use it to express exactly what I need to express. Poetic devices make that process infinitely more sophisticated. To be quite honest, I don't know if my writing would be worth anything if I had no sense of poetry. Guess it's a good thing I do!

How about you? Are you a poet, or have you ever considered yourself to be one? How does that affect your writing?

Today's Prompt: Write a narrative poem from the perspective of a teenager. Now turn that poem into a short story, using at least three lines from your poem, word for word, in the text.

And today I have a small bonus for those of you who are currently writing novels and would like to share, no extra writing required:

Go through your novel and find a particularly poetic passage or line that you'd like to share with all of us. Post it in the comments!

Happy Writing/Passage Finding!