Saturday, June 18, 2011

My Love Affair with Adverbs

It is well known, at least amongst writers, that adverbs are the enemy.  We're taught to slay those bastard adverbs from our manuscripts whenever possible, leave only one or two per thousand words or some nonsense...or is it nonsense?

I've often wondered because I, at one point, had never met an adverb I didn't like.  Mind you, while editing anthologies I pay careful attention to adverbs and remove some of them as I see fit, mostly because so many people regard them as a cigarette butt stuck in a piece of shoe-blackened gum on a sidewalk. 

Truth is, it took me a long time to get what the whole blacklisting of adverbs was about.  Modifiers with "ly" at the end were said to be like garlic to a vampire and I didn't get it.  I would remove them from my work and rearrange the sentences because I knew that was what editors would like to see.  the less adverbs, the better chance at acceptance.  Proof readers pointed this out to me, namely Tonia Brown, and I took hers and their advice in exterminating adverbs like roaches, but they would insist on coming back in the next piece I wrote, only to be exterminated again during re-writes and edits.

Then I read some older work and really paid attention to the use of adverbs, particularly in several Issac Asimov, Robert W. Chambers, and William Hope Hodgson stories.  In the past several months I have read work from these three authors and noticed an abundance of adverbs.  So many in fact that I would cringe at times, those pesky modifiers being used over and over, sometimes two in a single sentence!  Now, did that mean the stories were bad?  Hell no.  In fact Chambers' The King in Yellow is one of the best reads I've had the pleasure of experiencing in a long time.  Hodgson's House on the Borderland was very good, and the Asimov stories were amazing, especially considering the fact that I rarely read sci-fi.

But it was another time.  There were so many bits of grammar and tact that are now outdated due to progress and changing times, particularly in the case of Chambers and Hodgson.  I love reading the classics, and though I cringe at times concerning the overly, repetitively, monotonously used adverbs, I know that without these gems none of us would be doing what we're doing today.  It took reading the classics for me to understand what all the hoopla was about concerning adverbs, and now that I understand, I hope less and less of the little bastards appear in my work.  And if they do rear their ugly mugs, damn-it, I'll take my red pen and remove the little shits.

(Minus my deliberate use of three adverbs in a row, there were five in this post.  Too many, right?)

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