NVDT #53 – Pinkly. That -LY Thing. Again

Prompt – Are adverbs really the devil? If they sneak in occasionally, does it mean the writer is lazy?

I went on a rant a couple of years ago about -ly adverbs. Particularly adverbs where they didn’t belong. It was part of the whole franchise author, ‘who’s writing this crap anyway’ rant. Here’s what sparked it.

“The rain was washing the blood pinkly away.” – Robert B Parker, School Days

Oh. My. God. Really? Try pinkly in a Scrabble game and see how far you get.

Awkward adverbs –  I finished Carl Hiaasen’s Razor Girl. Classic Hiaasen. I think there were three or four adverb dialog tags in 90k. They were so rare the few used stuck out like a cowbell in Kenny G. I wondered, why not forego them altogether? Don’t argue with the star? Lazy editor?

Adverb laden – I always use the same two or three examples, and the first is a classic example of maybe, at times, it’s okay. It’s certainly easier. That example is the opening of Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. (Link) If we’d had to get the backstory on all those girls and their attitudes with body language, action, and/or hard verb tags it would have taken up pages. Adverbs lead us by the nose through that living room. In fact that’s what adverbs do. Stop the reader from making decisions and tell them what to think. I also mention Faulkner’s Mosquitos. More adverbs than a Nancy Drew mystery. More silvery moonlight than should be legal. But it’s a marvelous social satire in a classic vehicle. What would it have been without adverbs? Who knows. The man has a Nobel Prize, though, and Mosquitos was one of his very early works.

Outside dialogue – Pro Writing Aid has all these wonderful reports. How many adverbs outside dialogue. Three in 2600 words. I am informed editors hate adverbs and they are the sign of amateurism. Tell that to Hiaasen and Rowling and a long list of Nobel Prize winners, including Americans such as Faulkner, Morrison, Hemingway. Outside of dialog, foregoing tags because that is lazy, I see lines like “grossly underestimated”, “impossibly buff”, “completely insane”, as “oddly useful” on “certain occasions”. Where I veer on that would be “she tapped peckishly at her salad.” That’s in there with “pinkly”. Rewrite that one and don’t use another adverb like disinterestedly or morosely or the other cop-out, simile/metaphor. Think one verb, a direct BAM word, not a sorta verb and amplifier. Tough, huh? Work, even. Why bother when all those picky editors we were warned about let that shit slide? Because even if you give up, trying makes you better, forces you to look at your work one sentence at a time.

Not all adverbs are bad – We use them frequently as clarifiers – adverbs of place, degree, time, question, amount, affirmation or denial. It’s the adverbs of manner that are killers. Check out this writing advice from the internet -“While it’s almost always better to do without an adverb if you can, adverbs of manner are almost universally bad.” WTF? I mean I get it, but adverbs compounded with bad structure and repeaters? Further on that writing advice thought –

Here’s an interesting chart on adverbs from Ben Blatt’s Nabakov’s Favorite Word is Mauve. I would urge you to check out some of Blatt’s research. He was prompted by all the writerly advice that seemed to run counter to what he experienced reading.

Funny how authors who vilify adverbs have made some measure of peace with them.

“I never say ‘She says softly’. If it’s not already soft, you know, I have to leave a lot of space around it so a reader can hear that it’s soft.” – Toni Morrison

That’s writing. As far as adverbs outside dialogue, when in doubt, cast it out. But if you need it to paint a scene, there you go. I’ll close this one out with the best line about a writing truth I’ve seen in a long time, complete with adverbs.

Later, watching his future ex-wife slide into a yellow Lambo driven by an impossibly buff young airhead, Coolman could only marvel at the durability of stereotypes. – Carl Hiaasen, Razor Girl

A quote that begs the question that would do for next week – “How much time do you spend developing your stereotypes?” Don’t anybody get butt hurt, we all do it. Hiaasen wrapped 90k around them. Successfully. Again.

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Published by

Phil Huston


18 thoughts on “NVDT #53 – Pinkly. That -LY Thing. Again”

    1. That sorta goes to where Danelle Steele came in on other writing redundancies. Romance and “Fantasy” authors hit the rails with “wetly” and “dreamily” and…you know there’s a dictionary of adverbs for romance and erotica authors, right? My favorite adverb line is Elmore Leonard who said he had a character once who wrote romance novels usng nothing but incest and adverbs.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. You know that book sold gazillions and is held up for being loaded with writerly garbage and sentences that would get you flunked out of third grade. So $ is the point of slipperyly and wetly and the gamut of cheeseily rendered romance.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh i know it sold millions, then there were the movies. She laughed all the way to the bank, i’m sure, despite all the criticism of her writing. She didn’t intend to write literature. But that kind of stuff is harder for me to read than Ulysses. All those adverbs are superly distractingly annoyingly.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. On point, as ever. If Andorra Pett (or any of my characters) wanted me to write that they were doing something pinkly, there would have to be some serious explaining. They might be voices in my head but let’s try and keep it real.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All those wonderful dialog tags, and now all those evocative adverbs, soon you’ll want us to eliminate adjectives too…

    I mean, look at all those marvelously descriptive descriptors:

    absentmindedly, adoringly, awkwardly
    beautifully, briskly, brutally
    carefully, cheerfully, competitively
    eagerly, effortlessly, extravagantly
    girlishly, gracefully, grimly
    happily, halfheartedly, hungrily
    lazily, lifelessly, loyally
    quickly, quietly, quizzically
    really, recklessly, remorsefully, ruthlessly
    savagely, sloppily, stylishly
    unabashedly, unevenly, urgently
    wishfully, worriedly

    Grrrrrr (smile)

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Most of those re reasonable EXCEPT as dialog tags. “She appeared to study the potted palm absentmindedly, quietly lifted the Glock and cheerfully dispatched the rat had grown so large it should have been paying rent.”
      However, all of those would work in better in their native state as verbs or adjectives. Drop the LY and write a short sentence with each one. She lifted her skirt above her knees in a classic girlish move, stepped into the surf and sidekicked the salty foam into the side of his face. Girlishly would have saved word count and to my mind improves readability. How about ever effortlessly girlish she hiked her skirt etc? They aren’t. They are awful as dialog tags. Because as Toni Morrison et al have said, you don’t need it if you write it so they know. Pinkly and peckishly are out. Mostly though, unless you’re Alcott or Faulkner, it’s best to stay in the Hemingway to King range. Like the ING simultaneous action thing. Once it’s gone, you don’t miss it. Getting rid of it is the painful part.


  3. I read something on a blog a couple of weeks ago that included one sentence with, i swear, a dozen adverbs in a row. I thought, this has to have been done as a joke, except i don’t think it was.

    Lately, i try not to use any adverbs in my writing at all, but that’s mostly to see if i can do it or not. It’s hard, i think, not to use a single one. I’ve reduced it to one a post though. Sometimes the ol’ “ly” really does do the trick.

    Yeah, pinkly should go in some kind of bad adverb record book if there is such an animal.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wrote one chock full of them, on purpose. I try to minimize them, Pro Writing aid points them out and I try to oblige. And sometimes, dammit, storytelling and style require passive voice. That doesn’t mean -ing everything, but supposition, which often requires passive, is part of fiction. Oh well. Often was an adverb of quantity. At lest I didn’t use oftenly. Or genrall6 or usually or basically, all ly throwaways.

      Liked by 1 person

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