So, like, whatsa adverb?

The author looked at me with venom in her eyes. Sizing her up, I was fairly certain she could take me. Easily. “I have NEVER had anyone talk about my writing and my sentence structure the way you have! I don’t know anything about POV shifts, run-on sentences, or adverbs. Nor do I know what show vs. tell means. Furthermore, I don’t care! I am an artist and  ‘rules’ hinder the literary process. So piss off.”

While my jaw hung slack in my lap, she gathered her things. “Um, yes rules can hinder the literary process, ” I said, gathering up my chin. “However, there are some ‘rules’ that exist for a reason, and that’s to make the story easier for the reader to follow – effective communication. With all the POV shifts, it was hard for me to keep up. The severe case of adverbatosis created a ka-thunk cadence that cluttered the writing. And your run-on sentences made the message unclear…”

Her icy glare slid down her long nose and settled on me with a bad case of frostbite. “I think there is nothing wrong with my writing.”

“Yabut, I don’t believe it’s marketable as written.” How lame did I feel by this time?

“I’ll be happy to accept your apology when I get a five book deal,” she sniffed before storming out of the room.

That was a a one-on-one that took place five years ago at at a writer’s con, and I have yet to see her name in lights.

Here’s the long and short of it:  You’re a writer, so doesn’t it seem logical that learning how to use the tools of your trade is, like, IMPORTANT? It’s like a surgeon who isn’t concerned about learning how to use a scalpel. “Hey, no problemo, let’s just dig his tonsils out with a spoon.” Gah.

It flies in the face of logic that any writer would be unconcerned about learning any kind of writing rules, yet I see signs of this ignorance every day. Yes, you heard me – IGNORANCE, which means the condition of being uneducated, unaware, or uninformed.

Thankfully, this isn’t a fatal disease. One can go from being ignorant to being informed and aware in no time. The only way this is fatal is E-G-O, which has little place in this business. In fact, every literary tackle box is spring-loaded to launch an author’s ego right out of the zip code. It’s called a rejection letter.

But on the flip side, I’ve seen authors whose hands felt tied behind their backs because they were so concerned about “writing right” that it hogtied them into a literary coma. In this, I enthusiastically prescribe to my shoe-loving across-the-ponder Nicola Morgan, who screams from on high to just sit down, shut up, and write. Brava, Morgan – go buy yourself some wicked lavender colored boots.

It’s a case of balance. Write with abandon, but eventually waggle your eye on whether you’re meeting basic writing needs. Of course it’s all a matter of personal taste. For instance, I’m not a fan of excessive adverbs because I think they create a ka-thunk cadence, they’re lazy, and lean toward telling rather than showing.  Someone else may feel quite differently. Balance tends to cast a wider net. But in order to strike that balance, you gotta know da rules.

As for the haughty author? I had the last laugh since the event organizers sent me a check for the one-on-ones, which came out of the fee she paid. So in essence I got paid $60 to hear her blather about her extreme coolness.

14 Responses to So, like, whatsa adverb?

  1. Marisa Birns says:

    Goodness! At first I thought you made up this person to exemplify your message in this post. Haughtiness is definitely not the noun I would want ascribed to me if I were meeting an editor!

    Yes, know the rules and break the rules. But in breaking them, make sure it’s absolutely necessary and that is elevates the writing to the best it can be.

    $60.00? Not bad at all.

  2. This is a great post, and so true. Yes, writing is an art and sometimes you need to break the rules for art, but if you don’t know the rules are there it’s not art, it’s not a deliberate choice, it’s just sloppy.

    And you cannot be a professional writer (or ANYTHING) if you are unwilling to learn more and take criticism. I like to think I have a pretty good handle on grammar, but I also like to think I would be able to learn and have someone point out if I am using language incorrectly.

  3. Eh…no amount of money is worth being yelled at. At least not to me. And ohmyyes, this was a real person. I can still see her back stiffening as I started with my crit. When she tossed her pen on the table, I knew I was in trouble.

    This was a very exclusive writer’s workshop given by a very hooha agent, btw – go figure. You spend all that money to attend, only to get upset at being told you’re less than perfect? Odd.

  4. Sally Zigmond says:

    Whilst I can understand and sympathise with your annoyance, Lynn, I found your account of that woman’s performance very funny. I wonder if she looks back on it and winces or is still seeking for that one person who might recognise her outstanding genius (and wasting her money)?

  5. Ah, you would find humor in my suffering, Zigmond. As for her finding clarity in the aftermath – I seriously doubt it. She was truly shocked that I had so many issues with her writing. “No one” had ever said these things to her before. I felt like asking what rock she lives under.

  6. NinjaFingers says:

    Three words to live by:

    Read. It. Aloud.

    It works.

  7. Frank Mazur says:

    In general, things evolve toward efficiency, and I believe this is true of writing. Why use a verb with adverb when another verb already exists that contains the adverb and which most people would know. During my teaching days I produced an exercise, “Walk and Talk,” that was about getting kids to exercise the language they possessed but never accessed, settling instead for the usual. A few examples; to walk lightly (like a deer)–they all knew the word “pad”; to walk like a duck–they knew “waddle”; to walk through water–they all knew “wade” and some “ford”; to walk on all fours–they’d heard of “scramble.” There are numerous others for both common actions to which we often allude in our writing and storytelling.

  8. Webb says:

    Sigh, why do people who can’t write get offended when they’re told they can’t write. If you have to explain your writing then you’re not a writer but a talk show host. At least you got paid for getting yelled at.

  9. Yikes – thanks for the honourable mention, Lynn! Great post. (Of course.)

  10. Pelotard says:

    I know I’ve mentioned this at Litopia, but here goes again: the difference between breaking rules on purpose and out of sheer ignorance is like the difference between Chopin and my cat taking a stroll on a piano keyboard.

  11. HarryMarkov says:

    Oh, the horror… And this is real. No fakester with a wild practical joke streak? Real deal? I suddenly feel very, very numb.

  12. authorguy says:

    I am reminded of the scenes from Kasey Michaels’ wonderful book, Maggie By The Book, which was set at a writer’s convention and features a woman of exactly this sort. She gets trapped in an elevator with a publisher and describes the plot in hilarious detail. There are people who are just beyond hope.

    To be honest, I’m a pantser (squared) and I never took courses on writing either. I read a lot and I paid attention in English class, but that was it. Every story I write is a learning experience for me, especially since I try not to write in the same style twice.

    Marc Vun Kannon

  13. Marc, I have no doubt that you would never blow at an editor for giving you an honest crit of your submission – especially when you paid for it. In truth, few authors are that nervy in person. They save that kind of vitriol for email.

  14. authorguy says:

    I would never get so snotty under any circumstances. I’m well aware that much of what I do breaks the rules, as is my publisher, but somehow we make it work anyway. I can’t tell you eager I am to get comments, feedback, or edits from just about anyone, and a little gratitude that they spent some of their time on your work is surely the appropriate response, even if you did pay for it. I’m just finishing up a little SF story for a contest and I’m about to looking for crit partners.

    Marc Vun Kannon

Tell me what you really think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: