The Saga of the Adverb-Finder Thingy

Hey Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 5/20/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

A correspondent on a ListServ I used to attend regularly wrote that she was searching for the name of “a bit of editing software that would highlight all adverbs if you typed search adverbs or all verbs if you typed search verbs.”

Hackles rose on my neck. Here we are, back to the topic that won’t die: the dumbing down of America.

This is a writer’s slippery slope.

Searching for, finding, installing and using software that highlights all adverbs put the writer a tempting single click away from deleting all adverbs. And that’s just plain silly. I strongly advise against such software, even if you can find it.

If you believe perhaps you’re using too many adverbs, follow these two simple guidelines. The third point is a tidbit of important parenthetical information (and no, parenthetical information doesn’t have to be enclosed in parentheses):

  1. Never use an adverb in a tag line (the bit of he said, she said narrative that doesn’t make sense by itself and is most often attached to the dialogue with a comma). If the narrator has described the scene well enough, you won’t need adverbs in tag lines.
  2. Use only strong action verbs in your narrative sentences. This will cause all unnecessary adverbs and adjectives to fall away of their own accord. If you use only strong action verbs, you will consciously select only necessary adverbs and adjectives to modify the picture you’re placing in the reader’s mind. Again, this will occur naturally. It’s as easy as falling off a stack of platitudes.
  3. Despite what some folks say, not every word that ends in “ly” is an adverb. For example, the widely misused “likely” is an adjective that is synonymous with “probable,” not an adverb that’s synonymous with “probably.”

English just isn’t a one-rule-fits-all language. DESPITE Mark Twain, who once wrote that when you find an adverb you should kill it, and DESPITE the felonious intent of wannabe writing instructors who tell their charges to use no more than three (or five or some other arbitrary number) of exclamation points per page.

I’ve heard similar advice concerning the use of em dashes (long dashes) and colons and semicolons. And of course we’ve all been taught that hunting season never closes on state-of-being verbs or “had” or gerunds (many alleged writing instructors call gerunds “ing words”) because those three word-types cause passive voice.

Uhh, no, they don’t, Grasshopper.

State-of-being verbs by themselves do not cause passive voice, and neither the word “had” nor those pesky “ing words” are within a thousand mles of having anything to do with passive voice.

Although it’s true that adverbs can clutter up your writing, some adverbs in some situations are necessary. And “necessary” is the key word. See item 3 above.

The secret to good usage is not to get rid of “all” adverbs, state-of-being verbs, instances of “had,” adjectives, or anything else, but to get rid of any unnecessary adverbs, state-of-being verbs, adjectives, phrases, sentences, paragraphs, narrative, and dialogue.

It is the Human Mind (yours) that should determine which words and sentences and paragraphs remain and in what sequence.

Okay, here are a few guidelines (flexible, not “rules”) you can apply to your own writing:

  1. The state-of-being verbs are am, is, are, was, were, be, being and been. When one of these is used in conjunction with a “by phrase” (e.g., The pizza was delivered by Harvey) you’ve written a passive construction (or passive voice). Passive constructions, unless you’re writing a service manual for a vacuum cleaner, are bad.
  2. Some state-of-being verbs are necessary. To describe the size or relative size (the state of being) of a city, you have to use a state-of-being verb.  But don’t allow your narrator to describe the state of being of a character. (Don’t let him say “John was angry” or “John was livid” or “Joaquin was frightened” etc.)
  3. Use Your Mind. Despite what your  father said, it’s a wonderful thing. The human mind is the original spell checker, the original grammar checker, and the original verb and adverb-finder thingy.
  4. As part of using your mind, Read Your Work Aloud. If it sounds good to you, it will sound good in the reader’s mind. If you hit a spot that sounds awkward or rough, that’s because it’s, you know, awkward or rough. Fix it.

Remember that you’re only in charge until the reader gets hold of your work. Only You can decide what to leave in or omit from your writing, but only the reader gets to determine whether it’s necessary or distracting.

‘Til next time, happy writing!

Harvey

Note: I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

Creating Characters: Resources

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 5/12/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

Odd… I think I’ve never written a post on Creating Realistic Characters. I taught a seminar on the subject [in May 2013] in Bisbee, and I taught the same seminar in Tucson in February. Attendance was low on that one—meaning the market’s saturated—so I probably won’t teach it again for a couple years.

After the seminar in Bisbee was over, I realized it might be a good idea to bounce at least major characters—the protagonist and the antagonist—against Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Doing so will help the author not only understand the character better, but it might also help the author assign particular character traits, quirks and eccentricities.

Certainly a character who still hasn’t mastered and moved beyond the Physiological level (his needs are only air, food, water, sex, sleep, homeostasis, and excretion) would have different personality traits than one who had achieved any of the higher levels. The former character also would express those traits through different personality quirks and eccentricities than would the latter. Not really heady stuff, but something to think about.

After I shared the above bit of information with the folks at Bisbee via email, I received a response from one of my friends there (Thanks Lucinda!) who suggested a visit to the Human Metrics website.

At Human Metrics this particular link will open on the Jung Typology Test. Lucinda mentioned that her acting and communication students use it and find it interesting. I can add that it’s also a bit eye-opening, or it was for me. I recommend it.

Of course, if you answer the questions as your protagonist or antagonist would answer them, it will help inform (and form) those characters. It will help assign or explain character traits, personality quirks and eccentricities, and even  help the author initiate or resolve character arcs.

Why do I believe it will help? Because according to the site itself, having taken the test, you will

  • Obtain your 4-letter type formula according to Carl Jung’s and Isabel Briggs Myers’ typology, along with the strengths of preferences and the description of your personality type
  • Discover careers and occupations most suitable for your personality type along with examples of educational institutions where you can get a relevant degree or training
  • See which famous personalities share your type
  • Access free career development resources and learn about premium ones
  • Be able to use the results of this test as an input into the Jung Marriage Test™ … to assess your compatibility with your long-term romantic partner

How could that not be a good tool for creating a well-rounded protagonist or antagonist?

I don’t doubt that there are other online personality assessment tests out there. If you have discovered any that you found useful, please share those in a comment in the form below. That way anyone who chooses to check back will see the information as well.

That’s it for this time. Until later, happy writing!

Harvey

Note: I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

Writer vs. Author

Hi Folks,

Note: This post was originally scheduled for 4/10/2013. It didn’t post to MailChimp, so I’m posting it again now. I’ve revised the original post so it’s up to date.

I think all of us can agree that being a writer is a wonderful, if sometimes exasperating, predicament.

For writers, especially if we must pursue a day job in order to enable our writing habit, there really is nothing like making the time to sit down to write. If you need help in that regard, I urge you to check out Dean Wesley Smith’s classic workshop, Productivity. (When you get there, scroll down).

I’ve heard often that writers don’t want to write; they want to have written.

In my experience, nothing could be farther from the truth.

All of the real working writers I’ve known write as much for the process itself (and to entertain themselves) as for the eventual result of the process, whether poem, short story, essay, play or novel.

So what’s the difference between an author and a writer, other than the sense that an author is something better, somehow, than a mere writer?

My American Heritage College Dictionary (Fourth Edition) defines writer as “One who writes, esp. as an occupation.” Period. That’s it.

On the other hand, it defines author as “1a. The original writer of a literary work. b. One who writes professionally. 2. An originator or creator. 3. Author God.” Seriously, that’s what’s in the number three slot: Author God. Goodness! No wonder everyone wants to be known as an author instead of a writer!

But frankly I believe American Heritage missed the boat. Certainly writer and author aren’t exactly the same thing, but the difference is broader in some aspects than the American Heritage hints, yet I can promise you neither has anything to do with divinity.

Writers are folks who write and who are serious or passionate about writing, as outlined in the Thirteen Traits of a Great Writer. (You can read the original post for yourself.) They take great pride in the study and application of the craft, and very few things, if anything, are more important to them than their writing.

But more important to this comparison, writers are those who have the freedom to write and who exercise that freedom at every opportunity.

Authors, first of all, are writers who have written. But the author is a writer and a publicist and a marketer and a salesperson. In some cases, the author is also a publisher.

Now, if you happen to be Stephen King, you can be extremely successful and retain your just a writer status because other people are falling all over themselves to publicize, market, publish and sell your books. If you’re a highly successful author or are otherwise wealthy enough to hire publicists and marketing folks, you can also pretty much remain just a writer.

But if you’re anyone else, once your work is published, you have to be an author too. You have to be not only the creator but the manager, the marketer, the publicist, the guy who checks the coats and the guy who gets the coffee.

Now whether you bring a baggie full of Folgers and a coffee maker or just swing by Dunkin Donuts or Starbucks is up to you. Me? I’m a make my own kind of a guy.

Harvey

Update: Since I originally wrote this post, indie publishing has bloomed. The best first thing you can do to promote your work comes in three parts: create a great cover, write a great beginning, and write a great ending.

The cover draws the reader to browse the book. The beginning sells the reader on the current book. The ending sells the reader on your next book.

The best second thing you can do to  promote your work is Write the Next Story.

A Phoenix

Hi Folks,

This morning as I conducted some routine maintenance on my website, I got curious. I checked the “Uncategorized” posts.

Those marked Uncategorized were not sent to any list by MailChimp. Not even the Pro Writers blog, for which I wrote them.

I found forty-three such posts, all of which should have gone to the Pro Writers list.

So I’m beginning the arduous process of perusing, updating and rescheduling those posts. Those that are still valid as-is, I will schedule to post. Those that are dated, I will either not post or add a note to the beginning, then post.

These posts will pop into your email in box every Tuesday at 8 a.m. (Arizona time).

I am a professional fiction writer. If you’d like to get writing tips several times each week, pop over to my Daily Journal and sign up. In the alternative, you can also click the Pro Writer’s Journal tab on the main website at HarveyStanbrough.com.

The Daily Journal is free, and you’ll get a great deal more valid information out of that than anything else you can find around the Internet. Plus you get an inside view on the life of a professional fiction writer.

‘Til next week, keep writing.

Harvey