Friday, January 15, 2010

 

Friday Speakout: Surely You Just, Guest Post by Michelle Dwyer

Surely You Just (Cheesy, I know)

by Michelle Dwyer

Okay so, I recently received my contest critique for the WOW! Summer 2009 Flash Fiction Contest. Not too shabby I must say. I guess the past critiques have allowed me to refine those blunders called adverbs. Toning down these dust mites (as I now call them), has taken effort. But seeing less green (you know, the highlighted adverbs) in my critique is worth it.

Why was I using adverbs ALL the time? I was addicted to making a point—a point I never had to make.

I thought using “punch” words such as just, always, really, very, and some quantified my thoughts, made them more tangible for the reader to measure. For example, “I just got a request for a partial!” (That hasn’t happened. Just let me have my moment), is no more intense than, “I got a request for a partial!” They express the same joy. The “just” adds no value to the excitement that hopefully one day I will experience.

I took me a while to get it. In my mind, the reader had to know what had just happened, or what simply had to be a certain way. It made the stakes higher. Made those words very, very important, right? No. It just made me look like an amateur.

But I’m hard-headed (really, really hard-headed), so I’m still learning to give up the dust. Sometimes I leave particles in my stories. And guess what? Adverbs in moderation can actually add depth when done right; however I’ve learned that overall, readers don’t need to know that a car can go super fast or that my protagonist is immensely hot.

I can be defiant, refusing to let tried-and-true principles trump my need to be right. I needed proof, beyond a reasonable doubt, that most adverbs are in vain.

I opened the file belonging to my 113,000 word manuscript. Blindly, I searched for and deleted every just, always, really, some, and very. I didn’t care about sentence structure or meaning. After this, I re-read the story.

What do you think happened? I put a handful of these words back into the story because the impact legitimately called for them. The remaining adverbs were never seen again because they’d added no value and would never be missed. I now have a leaner, meaner manuscript.

How cluttered had my manuscript been before the changes? In other words, how many adverbs didn’t make the cut?

2,497.

Pretty, very, really, amazing…don’t you think?

Wait. Start over.

Amazing, right?

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Michelle studied writing in high school and longed to become an author. But circumstances arose, causing her to join the military instead. However, she never gave up. She enrolled in writing school, finished her first crime novel, and will achieve her MBA this fall. She writes as Krymzen Hall at http://www.helium.com/users/421563/show_articles


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Do you want to reach WOW’s audience? We welcome short posts (500 words or less) from writers just like you! You can include your bio, pic, and links to your website/blog for promotion. Our only requirement is that your post be about women and writing. Send your Friday “Speak Out!” post to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2008

 

All Words Are Not Equal

By Sharon Mortz

I have always loved words and enjoyed writing that challenges my vocabulary. Words are like pieces of an intricate puzzle, and when I write, I fit them together. Since my youth, when reading, I’ve recorded or “yellowed” words with which I was unfamiliar. In junior high, we were assigned vocabulary words to be defined and used in sentences. I tried to make each sentence a little story. I could have taught a class on run-on sentences. But all words are not equal.

I still have a tendency to write long, convoluted sentences. Now, as a freelancer, I’m challenged to shorten my sentences and use simple, concise language. My current writing teachers all admonish me to reduce “big” words and cut wordy sentences.

Factoid: Racecar, kayak and level are palindromes i.e. spelled the same whether read left or right.

Writer’s Digest offered an interesting analogy that has helped me understand the necessity of concise writing and the relative importance of parts of speech: writing is like an automobile. Verbs are the engine, nouns are the passengers and adjectives and adverbs are tails fins, hood ornaments, bumper stickers and other decorative paraphernalia.

If concise is good enough for Hemingway, it’s good enough for me.

Factoid: Dreamt is the only English word that ends in the letters “mt.”

Below are some ways to put your writing on a diet while increasing the flavor.

• Excise empty intensifiers: these are the adverbs that I now eschew like a dieter eschews sugar: extremely, very, absolutely, unusually, really, particularly. These words are acceptable in conversation but water down writing.

Factoid: Stewardesses is the longest word typed with only the left hand.

• Some adjectives are just “nice” and add nothing to the sentence. Example: The beautiful sunrise warmed the hills. In this case, beautiful adds nothing. Use the “nice” test.

Factoid: There are two words in the English language that contain all five vowels in order: abstemious and facetious.

• Sometimes adverbs can be replaced with verbs and that will energize the sentence. Example: The sun was intensely hot could be converted to the sun scorched the skin.

Factoid: Lollipop is the longest word typed with only the right hand.

• One of my big problems is “he said” plus an adverb. I usually want to add loudly, softly or some other “ly” word to the “he/she said.” If more is needed, the first lesson I learned as a writer applies: instead of telling the reader, show the reader with action. For example, “he said vehemently” could become, “he said, pounding his fist on the table.”

Though lean and mean is better writing for the novice, if I attain any writing stature, I will know how to write wordy, convoluted sentences that I prefer. I only hope I get paid by the word!

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