September 28, 2011

to ad or not to ad

Let's take a break from our writing adventures for a grammar lesson. Today, we'll talk about adjectives and adverbs. Before you doze off, I promise to provide entertainment in the form of music and cartoons.

Based on the writing communities I have joined, I have surmised this fact: Adjectives and adverbs are grammatical dishes best served sparingly.

When used well they add to your story and give it depth. Overuse them and it will detract from it.

When it comes to describing characters, I unpack my adjectives... just like Schoolhouse Rock said I should.

Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. It is tempting to want to use adjectives to describe a character. Sometimes, it might seem like the only way — but it is not.

Example with adjective: The man was tall.

Now let's try to describe this stud muffin with fewer adjectives: My neck ached from looking up at the man who towered over me.

The second example still gets the point across that the man is tall, but it does so in a more colorful way.

Likewise, adverbs are all too easy to use, and I again I turn to Schoolhouse Rock for an explanation

An adverb modifies a verb or another adjective, according to my friends at School House Rock.

Where I most need to improve my use of adverbs is with dialogue tags. During a chat last week on Savvy Authors, best-selling author Kristan Higgins made a great point about how to do this in a discussion on "The Subtle Art of Show, Don't Tell."
I was at a lecture by my most worshipped living author (Elinor Lipman, for the record), and she gave a great example of SDT.

“I'll call you,” he said hesitantly. Doesn't seem awful, does it? And it's not. It's just not as good as:

“I'll call you. Maybe. If you want.” That's the show. No need to say “said hesitantly”; she showed his hesitation in the dialogue itself. Which is why she teaches at just about every Ivy League school there is.

Now, lots of people think adverbs are the kiss of death, but I don't think so. Use them in moderation. Like a McDonald's cheeseburger, they're fine  once in a while.
The point I'm trying to make is not that School House Rock is the devil. I love the videos and the lessons I learned from the songs stuck with me after watching. What I hope you'll take away is the importance of considering the impact each word or phrase you put in a story might ultimately have on the finished product.

Adjectives and adverbs are a place to start.

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