Daily Archives: October 6, 2011

Three Things Thursday

1. I sort of feel better today even though it’s almost 8 am and dark outside. This is SAD. I don’t love the weather when it turns cold. In fact, now that we are headed into the cold season that Utah offers, I’m wishing for hot, beachy, delicious weather. The crash of the waves, the way the water looks when it runs up onto the shore, the smell of the salt and the cry of the gulls. I love the way the wet sand sounds when you walk on it, the way you itch after the salt water dries on your skin and how a tumble in the waves makes your nose burn. I love the way the sun feels on your eyelids, how hard it is to walk through sand dunes and crunching on grit when you’re eating that hotdog with relish and mustard.

Mr. S. King (Carrie, Salem’s Lot, The Shining etc) says something like this about description in his memoir On Writing. I’m paraphrasing here. Description is the opportunity for the author to make place become real for the reader. He says we must use the perfect amount of description and that takes practice.

You know the drill. Look through your novel. Does the reader know where she is in every scene? Are you using the five senses so your reader is grounded? If not, YOU’RE grounded.

2. In class yesterday, one of my sweet students said, “I love adverbs.” After I woke up from my faint and begged her not to use them in my class (she said she wouldn’t), I thought I needed some fun quotes about adverbs. So here are a few:

Going back to our good friend Steve– “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
― Stephen King, On Writing

“In order to write good stuff you have to hate adverbs.”
(Theodore Roethke, quoted in The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke, by Allan Seager.)

“I am dead to adverbs; they cannot excite me. To misplace an adverb is a thing which I am able to do with frozen indifference; it can never give me a pang. … There are subtleties which I cannot master at all,–the confuse me, they mean absolutely nothing to me,–and this adverb plague is one of them. … Yes, there are things which we cannot learn, and there is no use in fretting about it. I cannot learn adverbs; and what is more I won’t.”
(Mark Twain, “Reply to a Boston Girl,” Atlantic Monthly, June 1880)

“Do not over-write. Oftentimes novice writers (and I have been guilty of this) tend to use way too many exclamation points, far too many adjectives and adverbs, and they want to show off their vocabulary. Less is more. Stick to the meat of the story. Understatement is powerful.”
(Marvin D. Wilson in Meet the Editor.)

“Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.”
(William Strunk Jr., E B White in ‘Elements of Style’)

“In order to write good stuff you have to hate adverbs.”
(Theodore Roethke, quoted in The Glass House: The Life of Theodore Roethke, by Allan Seager. McGraw-Hill, 1968)

“Most adverbs are unnecessary. You will clutter your sentence and annoy the reader if you choose a verb that has a specific meaning and then add an adverb that carries the same meaning. Don’t tell us that the radio blared loudly – “blare” connotes loudness. Don’t write that someone clenched his teeth tightly – there’s no other way to clench teeth. Again and again in careless writing, strong verbs are weakened by redundant adverbs.”
(William Zinsser in On Writing Well)

“Minimize words ending in -ly; these are usually weak adverbs. Instead, use specific nouns and verbs.”
( Dr. Myron, Shippensburg University in Useful Manuscript Preparation)

I could keep going on this, but I won’t. You get the picture. When we write we want each word to play its part. We want our stories to be strong.

3. I find it interesting that people will read a well-written book and love it, but don’t know why they love it. You want to be a good writer? Figure out WHY you love what you love. And another thing–I’ve heard it said–and I’ve said it myself–that reading poorly written books can teach you to be a better writer. This is only true if you are reading fine literature as well. Otherwise, you will fall headfirst into the bad writing category because your teachers–the books you are reading–are teaching you the wrong way to write.

It doesn’t matter if the genre YOU write for has a million adverbs per page. YOU write the best, cleanest, strongest writing you can.
It doesn’t matter if all the best sellers in the world of children’s writing have weak plot, poor writing or flimsy characterization. YOU decide your writing will NOT be anything but your best.
Maybe we will be the starving artists that Ann Dee talked about on Tuesday. But at least we will know that we’ve done the best work–not the easiest–for those who trust us with their minds for a few hours at a time.

Here we go–one last adverb quote–from a movie this time.

“It’s an adverb, Sam. It’s a lazy tool of a weak mind.”
Kevin Spacey and Dustin Hoffman in “Outbreak”

(It’s SLEETING now?????)


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