Wednesday, April 29, 2015

A to Z Challenge: Y is -LY Words

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Welcome to April. With its customary showers comes the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. For those who are unfamiliar with it:
The brainchild of Arlee Bird, at Tossing it Out, the A to Z Challenge is posting every day in April except Sundays (we get those off for good behavior.) And since there are 26 days, that matches the 26 letters of the alphabet. On April 1, blog about something that begins with the letter “A.” April 2 is “B,” April 3 is “C,” and so on. You can use a theme for the month or go random – just as long as it matches the letter of the alphabet for the day. (Source) 
The A to Z Challenge is a great way to get into the blogging habit and make new friends. For more details and its history, go HERE 

My theme this year is EDITING

I'll be posting practical advice for editing any story, novel, or other piece of writing. Editing is something most authors struggle with, and after years of doing my own as well as that of others, I have a pretty good eye for what needs work. I'll be doing short posts on editing topics and (hopefully) dispensing simple, valuable advice to help everyone out there self-edit.


Y is for-LY Words

Yeah, playing with the lettering again. Not many editing subjects that begin with Y. Whatcha gonna do?

Adverbs, or -ly words, are one of the first things most people will tell you to edit out as a writer. This is one of those things that writers and editors feel really strongly about and can definitely but heads over. Here are some points to consider when editing for adverbs.

1. Any -ly word, by nature, is telling, rather than showing.  

She said sadly.
He stood up carefully.
The wind blew coldly.

There are better, more visual way to say these things so that the reader pictures them better. And you should cut the adverbs and use stronger sentences whenever possible.

However...

2. I am a strong believer that sometimes editors are a bit too strenuous when cutting adverbs. Whether you keep them or not will depend on a case by case basis, but I don't think every -ly word known to writing kind always needs to be cut.

For example: I use the word 'warily' a lot. As in, "He looked up warily." Of course I could show it in a much stronger way. "He glanced up, looking like he expected an attack at any moment." It's much more visual and therefore much stronger. 

It's also much wordier. When you write mystery/detective novels, there's a whole lot of caution and suspicion floating around. I don't always want to use so many words to convey a look. Sometimes the more concise version is better. Assuming they're familiar with the definition of the word, and you have described your character adequately, the reader will still be able to picture it.

3. Consider your genre/target age. To some extent in YA, but more so in Middle Grade, -ly words are more acceptable. That's because young readers don't do well with sarcasm or reading between the lines. You have to be really straight forward with them. With adults, -ly words become superfluous and annoying.

Example: "John looked as though his entire world had just shattered on the floor in front of him." When a middle grade child reads this line, it may not automatically evoke a mental image. They won't know what I mean, or what John's expression looks like. If I just say, "John looked up sadly," they can process that. For adults, the first one is obviously preferable.

So basically you have to decide when to keep your adverbs and when to kill your darlings. As a general rule, I would say be very, very choosy about the ones you keep, but that doesn't mean you can't keep a few.

What's your policy on -ly words?

6 comments :

  1. I feel much the same as you. Yes they can be a crutch, but there is a place for them.

    I think Stephen King said in his book to never use adverbs, but if you're familiar with his writing, he uses plenty in his own writing.

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    1. Yeah, even when authors rail against adverbs, they usually still use at least some in their writing. About the only proper placement for them, in my opinion, is when you really don't even notice them.

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  2. Seek and destroy!
    I cut out every single one from my last manuscript, but one critique partner talked me into putting a two or three back in. Sometimes, it's the only way a sentence will ring true.

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    1. Agree. Sometimes you need it. Just very seldom.

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  3. Sadly, I honestly have never adamantly searched religiously or even partially for -ly words. Obviously I'll be more diligently doing so. Post hastly.

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    1. That's why they call them Works in Progress. Although, maybe you've never noticed them because they aren't a crutch for you. Some authors just naturally lean away from them. If that's the case, go you! You're ahead of the pack. :D

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