Generally Miserable

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Every once in awhile I read advice from a published author on how to write, just as a refresher course on what I should be doing. Neil Gaiman has good advice. Margaret Atwood does too. Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird is a fabulous book, and I’m not sure why I don’t own it yet. I love to remind myself of common rookie mistakes  so I can feel good about avoiding them. But today’s advice made a specific repeated error so glaring on the page that it hurts to read my own manuscript.

My adverbs are killing me.

My professors would be appalled. I searched for “ly” just to get an idea of the extent of the infection, and it made me want to cry. I stopped the search after chapter two. I won’t tell you how many there were because I was too ashamed of myself to count them. But it was more than two (which would also be too many).

I suppose I shouldn’t be too hard on myself. This is an unfinished rough draft, and I have at least two or three drafts to go before it resembles the finished product. But right now, it’s plain awful.

Michael Crichton once said, “About two hundred pages in, I decide the book’s no good, and it was a mistake ever to begin it. And I think there is no way to fix it, and I am generally miserable…”

I’m right there with him. The book is no good, and I am miserable.

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5 thoughts on “Generally Miserable

  1. Thanks, Merrilee! I’m trying to just finish it, and then I can let myself hack the draft to pieces. But I decided to weed out the worst of them to make myself feel better. It helped. 🙂

    Micah, I look at writing advice this way: you have to earn the right to break the rules. Prove to the editor that your way of breaking rules makes the story better instead of worse. And as my mother says, you are only allowed to break the rules if it is obvious you know better. I’m not quite there yet.

    I noticed two things about my adverbs: 1) They were my own lazy way of avoiding writing good description. “Slap an adverb on it, and I don’t have to come up with a metaphor!” 2) More often than not, the adverb amounted to me interrupting the story. Not good!

  2. Micah

    Is it bad that I disagree with a substantial percentage of that advice (in the link)?

    Cutting out prologues would kill about 80% of the fantasy genre (some for the better, perhaps, but not all). Sometimes I think successful storytellers overstate something they dislike; for example, the folks at Pixar have said that flashbacks should be avoided at all costs. Clearly the people who write Lost never figured that out.

    “Said” has always felt like a throwaway verb to me; I only let it appear by itself if I absolutely have to let the reader know who is speaking. Otherwise I either give no quote attribution or put something interesting in there to clarify the intonation of the speaker… I see no reason why adverbs should be considered so absolutely evil in this context. Though using a fancy word for the heck of it is bad, of course; it has to have purpose.

    The word “suddenly” is DEFINITELY a word that should be used sparingly, but I think it’s still perfectly acceptable. Honestly, I don’t think there are many effective ways there are to convey an unexpected and startling event without using it (and several of those ways can feel very forced).

    I do agree with the sense that simplicity is good, though. I myself have been told to pack on tons of extra description, but I never really accepted that advice. Unless you’re either brilliant with descriptions or you have readers who care more about how things look than what will happen with the story (which might well be another problem), I think brevity is good.

    Don’t feel too bad about adverbs. Until they get in the way of the story flow (which happens if they feel forced or repetitive), I don’t think they’re a significant issue. Personally speaking. 🙂

    /soapbox

  3. *hugs* I hate that stage too. But push on, it will pass. And don’t worry about adverbs at this stage either. That’s an easy fix.

    My first drafts have two things in common; overuse of semi-colons and masses and masses of sentence fragments. But I never worry about them until draft two. While I’m writing, I worry about the characters and the plot and the conflict. Never the prose 🙂

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