What is the 5 A club you ask. Authors Against Adjectives and Adverbs.
It´s an unofficial club. There is no membership. There is no member list, no dues, no newsletter and no president. But it is a sure thing that if you are a member, you know it. If you are not a member, there is a good chance that your readers, or those potential readers that didn´t purchase your novel after they read the first page, paragraph or line also know it.
So what the hell is wrong with Adjectives and Adverbs? Surely a young writer has been, in some remote corner of the internet, introduced to a debate concerning the value or lack thereof related to those pesky ´LY´ words that tell us how an action is being done. Adverbs. And almost every INDIE Writer within the Amazon Self Publishing world has read
Stephen King´s ´On Writing´ and therefore has poured over his diatribe on the evils of the Adverb.
Adverbs give a quality to an action. Quickly, loudly, respectfully, happily, gladly, sadly, thankfully, perfectly, highly, lowly, promptly, angrily, quietly, loudly, softly, beautifully, motionlessly, gracefully, generously, generally, adamantly, certainly, hungrily, massively, necessarily, lovely, sharply, accusingly, heartily, roughly, smoothly, separately, badly, dangerously, mournfully, spitefully, boldly etc. They all modify the way an action was done.
¨He closed the door firmly.¨ Nothing wrong with that sentence, right? Ok, it´s not Faulkner or the Bard but it gets the job done. But wouldn´t ¨He slammed the door¨ be a better sentence?
As an English teacher I am constantly telling my students that English conversation uses a small number of verbs as compared to Spanish and other romance languages. They say Elaborate where we just say Make. They say Enter where we say Go in. They say Carry out where we say Do. There are hundreds of examples.
But of course there is a huge difference between spoken language and prose. A writer´s job is to pick just the right word, at the right moment to convey the right idea, action, emotion or description.
Every writer has heard of the Show don´t Tell rule. Aren´t adverbs a nasty little poisonous way to let TELLING to creep into our prose where we would rather be SHOWING? A slammed door is an image that everyone sees played out across their mind´s eye. But the adverb ´FIRMLY´ is a description that one must interpret. It holds little visual context and is therefore TELLING.
Furthermore, if the adverb is not propping up a weak verb, it is likely to be creating a useless redundancy. (Ok, ´useless´ was redundant in itself … so shoot me.) So if we are to assume that each and every writer has realized (within reason of course, there will be many instances where an adverb plays a good, strong role in your prose and should be left alone) that ADVERBS are vile little venemous creature to be stomped on whenever possible, why then should the ADJECTIVE not get the same treatment?
If an adverb describes and modifies a verb and often only props up a weak verb, doesn´t it therefore stand to reason that an Adjective, which describes a noun, would in many cases only serve to prop up a weak noun? Or create a redundancy?
¨As I stepped off the patio of my beach-side bungalow, a cool breeze blew through my hair.¨ (Ok, that just sucked but I´m just writing to create an example …. damned critics)
Which word can we get rid of here? I´m sharpening my ginsu knife and going after that ´COOL´ … damn, aren´t all breezes cool? If it were a cold breeze then wouldn´t you call that …. Oh, I don´t know ….. maybe WIND?
One could go on and on defending or destroying adjectives. One could argue that there is such a thing as a hot breeze. Ok, could be. But the scene that I just wrote gives me the idea of a dusk or late afternoon scene with waves crashing, palm trees etc. If not, then maybe we should have written ¨Even with my five hundred dollar Ray Bans, the sun blinded me as I stepped off the patio of my beach-side bungalow.¨ Makes breezes irrelevant IMHO. Cause I´m using STRONG Nouns. Or if not, at least I am getting to the damn point instead of letting an advective do the work for me.
Before leaving off with a list of quotes about the evils of the deadly adjective / adverb, I´ll also bring up another tidbit of writer insight related to Nouns. Let´s all remember Chekov´s Gun. No, I´m not referring to some obscure episode of the Original Star Trek. Turn off the TV and pay attention.
Chekhov’s gun is a dramatic principle that requires every element in a narrative to be irreplaceable, with anything else removed.
Remove everything that has no relevance to the story. If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.
Now this may seem a little harsh. I have actually, on many occassions employed the opposite approach which I call the kitchen sink method; putting in all kinds of stuff regardless of any connection to the story. However, this approach had better add setting, backstory or character developement. No one wants to know what kind of cosmetics your heroine uses, how many slices of ham they put on their sandwiches or (Especially …. damn I hate these guys) what their favorite Beatles´ tune is.
Ok. Off to the races with the quotes. Have fun and Kill your adverbs and adjectives. Welcome to Authors Against Adjectives and Adverbs.
Note – Let me mention once again … there is a time and place for everything. I tend to ignore all rules, suggestions and throw all good advice out the window where dialogue is concerned (not including dialogue tags … that’s sacred ground) So if you happen to notice a bunch of adverbs and adjectives in a Cormac McCarthy or Hemingway or even Stephen King novel, you might also notice how often they are used. It’s like Chili sauce on your tacos … a little is just tasty … too much burns your mouth. In other words, this is an opinion piece. It is not meant to provoke a huge arguement. Cheers.
“Adjectives are frequently the greatest enemy of the substantive.”
“I was taught to distrust adjectives as I would later learn to distrust certain people in certain situations.”
– Ernest Hemingway
“The adjective is the banana peel of the parts of speech.”
– Clifton Paul Fadiman
“When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don’t mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable.
They weaken when close together. They give strength when they are wide apart.”
– Mark Twain
“The road to hell is paved with adjectives.”
– Stephen King
“The adjective is the one part of speech first seized upon and worked to death by novices and inferior writers.”
– J.I. Rodale
“Use no superfluous word, no adjective, which does not reveal something.”
– Ezra Pound
“The adjective has not been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.”
– E.B. White
“[Whoever writes in English] is struggling against vagueness, against obscurity, against the lure of the decorative adjective.”
– George Orwell
“Most adjectives are also unnecessary. Like adverbs, they are sprinkled into sentences by writers who don’t stop to think that the concept is already in the noun.”
– William Zissner
David Gordon Burke
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