July blog prompts have arrived. If you are wondering how these happen, Mod R combs your comments and questions you send in and then compiles them for each month.
You have very unique comparisons and metaphors when you write descriptions. Are they just things you come up with naturally, or do you have helping tools or exercises? How prescriptive are you in regards to writing rules like “don’t use adverbs, don’t use adjectives”?
Gordon and I read widely. We also watch widely. For example, I’ve watched this K drama where the king of Joseon is trying to sneak out of the palace, and this is very difficult for him, since he has done it before and is now feverishly watched 24/7 by eunuchs and court maids. So he sends his eunuch to bring him a snow sculpture, which turns out to be a very anachronistic snowman. The eunuch delivers the snowman on a platter, patiently knocks, opens the door… and finds an empty room.
The king and his friend are walking away from the palace in plain clothes and they hear a primal scream.
“Jeon-ha!!!” Which roughly translates to “Your Majesty” or “Your Highness” and to English speakers sounds a lot like cho-nah. Clearly our poor eunuch has had it.
The king chuckles, and his friend looks at him and says, “Why are you like this?”
This is going into a book somewhere. It was such a human moment. It won’t be that scene, but the emotional interplay will be the same. Someone does something, and someone close to them wonders what had gone wrong in their upbringing.
This is why the COVID pandemic has been so devastating. Writers are sponges, we absorb, digest, and make our own version of people and situations we encounter. When there is no stimulus, nothing is getting made. There are no writing rules or exercises to help you with this. You have to feed your brain with as much new fun entertainment and information you can and let it process.
As far as the writing rules, there is only one. If it feels right, do it. That’s it.
When people make blanket statements like “don’t use adverbs,” they either don’t know what they are talking about or they are in the process of eradicating their own overuse of adverbs. They have armed themselves with a hammer, and now they swinging it at everything that resembles a nail.
Let’s talk about adverbs a little, because they are often maligned.
When to use and not use adverbs
“They’re coming!” she screamed excitedly.
We know she is excited. “Screamed” accomplished that on its own. Typically if you feel the need to use an adverb in dialogue, you may want to try a stronger verb first.
She walked toward him forcefully.
She marched, she strode, she stomped, etc.
Try to avoid overuse of adverbs in dialogue tags, but do use them when needed.
“I will kill you.” He pronounced the words with crisp exactness, as if slicing them off with a knife.
“I will kill you,” he ground out.
“I will kill you.” He enunciated each word, as if he were talking to someone terminally stupid.
“I will kill you,” he whispered, his face flat.
“I will kill you,” he murmured, his face flat.
“I will kill you,” he promised quietly, his face flat.
Each meaning is slightly different. “Whispered” and “promised quietly” are not synonymous. Whispered may imply speaking to themselves. It’s not necessarily for other people to hear. It can also imply weakness – the speaker is too injured or too choked up with emotion to speak. Promised quietly implies determination. The speaker isn’t just angry, he is resolute. It’s almost a vow.
As a writer, you have to decide which one you want. And great many writers will sit there and stare at these examples for twenty minutes trying to choose the right one, and then go with “I will kill you,” he swore because selecting the right one is too hard and requires too much brain power.
Adverbs have their primary use in the narrative, when the right verb is not enough and you need emphasis.
“He sliced the man’s fingers off, one by one, until the hand was a bloody stump.”
“Slowly, methodically, he sliced the man’s fingers off, one by one, until the hand was a bloody stump.”
The second gives us a lot of information as to the type of person our knife wielder is. This is a cold, callous sonovabitch, and he probably has done something like this before. We infer this, even though it’s not stated, from those two adverbs.
Adverbs are subtle tools and they need to be used with precision. Words exist for a reason. You have great many to choose from so try to use them wisely. 🙂