More Word Count: On Adverbs And Words Ending In “ly”

Previously, I talked with you about cutting out the fluff of a long-winded first draft. Lengthy drafts are more boon than bane because there are many ways to economize your word count. As you continue to cut down your first draft by Steven King’s 10 percent rule and, as Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch recommends, murder your darlings, pay attention to language constructs that can weaken your prose.

On adverbs and words ending in “ly”.

I covered the adverb, “really”, in my earlier Word Count post, but we’ll have a closer look at adverbs because the fact is, if the word ends in “ly” it probab(ly) shouldn’t be in your story.

“Adverbs have their place, but often writers can improve their writing by pruning adverbs.”1

Adverbs serve a distinct purpose, particularly in non-fiction. In fiction, however, the adverb becomes a “telling” word.

You’ll notice in the paragraph above I used the word “particularly”. I could have written, “Adverbs serve a distinct purpose in non-fiction.” In this case however, the word “particularly” was used to weaken the declaration. While it is true that adverbs serve a distinct purpose in non-fiction I could not claim that they do not also have a distinct purpose in fiction.

Adverbs can water-down the impact of a sentence. An adverb can reduce the immediacy of active tense. They force a reader to create their own image rather than “seeing” the story as you tell it.

Let’s see it in an example: “The cat cunningly stalked his prey.”

The word “cunningly” is an adverb. In this instance it describes the way the cat is stalking his prey. This adverb is insubstantial as a descriptive word because the reader must consider what he imagines “cunningly” might look like. A sharper picture could be created by replacing the adverb with sensory description.

Such as: “The cat crouched low to the ground as it stalked on soft toes, ears perked and eyes slit, after his prey.”

This second example is longer but it gives a more precise image. You can “see” this cat. You can see the cunning he uses and don’t have to fill in the blanks or create your own sense of what he is doing.

Remember the adage, “show, don’t tell“? Well, good fiction has a careful balance between showing and telling but examine your manuscript and hunt out those adverbs. When you see one decide if it can be cut or if the sentence could be rewritten with descriptive verbs and adjectives instead of an adverb.

When you’re hunting for darlings to murder you can eliminate many words but you will find that rewriting sentences to avoid depending on the tepid description of adverbs can have the reverse affect. As you cut some words from your draft you add others. The final work will be more compelling but it may not be shorter.

What is important is that your final draft holds the reader’s attention with strong, evocative imagery. Allow your readers to see through the words on the page and lose themselves in the story.

Do you agree or disagree? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

1. Grammar Girl: How to Eliminate Adverbs :: Quick and Dirty Tips

Writing Inspiration Through Art

Writing Inspiration Through Art Life imitates art, and art imitates life. Writers search high and low for inspiration, but inspiration is everywhere around us! We can “imitate” art by using it as a starting point and catalyst to more vibrant and creative writing. Not just limited to fiction, art can inspire us to write colorful blog posts, articles, and other nonfiction works.

I love colorful pictures, paintings, and crafts that were created by inspired minds of today and yesterday. I am not overly picky about what can inspire me, as long as it is aesthetically pleasing and accesses the visual thinking area of my mind. I can weave a story around captivating elements within a picture.

Artistic Imagery for the Writer

Here’s a fun little exercise that I like to use when my creative well is running dry. You don’t even have to take a trip to a museum to find breathtaking works of art, although you certainly could!

  1. Type in a random word into your favorite search engine or photo site, coupled with the word “art”. I love flowers, so I might try “flower art”, whereas if you are focusing on writing an interview, you might look for “female art”.
  2. Click on the image results of your search query. The internet is full of images in every style, medium, and expression. Choose three of the images that jump out at you immediately. Don’t worry too much if they don’t appear to be your favorites, or if they don’t match the mood of your writing project. As long as they elicit an emotional response from you, they are likely to be useful!
  3. Take the three images and try to create a mini-story in your mind. For example, you might have one picture of a young woman, another of a castle, and another of a field of flowers. The basic story behind these three images is: “There is a woman in a castle surrounded by flowers.”
  4. Now, ask yourself all sorts of questions. “Why is the woman there? Does she live there? Has the castle been abandoned, with the flowers growing everywhere? Is she alone? Where will she go? What will she find in the castle? Does she like the flowers?” These kinds of questions will get your creative juices flowing, and you may find a plot line for a short story or novel hidden within these pictures!
  5. Tie these images back into your non-fiction writing project. The young woman can stand for yourself, or the subject you’re writing about. You may need to write from a new point of view, or find the human angle to your otherwise dull topic. The castle may stand for a real life physical location. Where is your topic making the most impact? Where is the headquarters located? For more abstract art, such as flowers, you may be able to compare your subject to the flowers, and list all the reasons why it is so.

Inspiration Out in the Open

Art is everywhere! And not just limited to images, photos, or paintings. Sculpture and crafts are 3D visions of the mind’s eye brought to life. Nature is living, breathing art! Others find beauty and creativity in architecture, fashion, film, and interior decorating.

Keep your eyes and mind open, and you will begin to see the beauty and the stories all around you.

What inspires you the most? How do you bring those images out of real life and down into words? Are more literal descriptive passages your style, or do you use art as a jumping point into deeper discussion and meaning?

Photo Credit: Dalbera

Sensory Description Connects With Readers

Stormy Skies and Lightening in Perth evoke Sensory Description.On Monday night, Perth got a bit wet. Actually, we had what could be the nastiest storm that the city has experienced in twenty years. After days of muggy summer heat, smothered by gray clouds and drowning in heavy, humid air, the clouds were split apart with lightning.

With my son and daughter snuggled against me, we peered from the warmth and safety of my bedroom window into the street outside. Wind thrashed the trees. The blur of rain softened the edges of the fences across the street. Waterfalls trickled from overflowing hanging pots.

As we watched, the sky turned an emerald green like the city of Oz. The greyness disappeared beneath a filter of emeralds and the rain glittered like splintering crystal as it shattered against every surface. Spikes of lightening sparked white into the green for blinding seconds before washing away in the rain. Our chests echoed with each pounding crack and rumble of thunder.

The cool air breezed through doors, windows, and roof-tiles. Raindrops chased the gusts only to be dashed against the windows, splattered into rivulets against the glass. The air smelled of earth and new grass. Dust from a long, hot summer settled leaving a fresh clean scent as if the world had been reborn.

When was the last time you watched a storm? Have you ever walked through the rain?

What did it feel like on your skin? Did is caress your arms with sun-warmed drops or did you shiver with chill as it tricked down your collar, your neck, and back? Did your feet squelch in wet shoes and socks? Did the rain flick off your rain jacket, the mud puddles sludgy around the ankles of your rain boots?

What did it taste like on your lips? Was it cool and refreshing? Did it taste like new spring, warming after a long cold winter? Did it have the coppery burn of a hot, dry summer, sooty ash after bush fires, an acrid tang from city smog?

What did it sound like as it beat upon the pavement or splashed in puddles beneath your feet? Could you hear it pinging from tin rooftops? Did it ebb and flow like ocean waves? Was it accompanied by rumbling thunder and howling winds?

What did it look like as it sheeted down, twisting everything around you into a blurry haze? Did it cast a strange green tint against the late afternoon sky? Was the world snuggled into the muted pale ghosts of overcast skies? Did objects seem to move and shift as if they were trying to dart between raindrops to stay dry?

What did it smell like as you inhaled the changing air? Could you smell the earthiness of freshly wet dirt, the damp of a wet dog, or the fresh, crisp, newness of soaked grasses? Could you smell a sense of clean washing into the world as dust and grime rinsed down the drains?

Have you ever experienced a moment with every sense of your body? Take a moment now to tune into your surroundings. Hear, Taste, Touch, See, Smell. Absorb every sight, sound, texture, tang, and scent.

The best way to bring a reader into your story is with rich, sensory description. Our memories are triggered by our senses and invoking sensory descriptions in your writing creates new memories and brings forth old memories in your reader.

Sensory description has a lot to do with the adage, “Show, don’t tell.” When you show your reader, you use language that describes. Telling conveys simple facts. The sentence, “It was raining.”, tells a reader that drops of water fell from the sky. But HOW do the drops fall? Without careful details that connect to the five senses, the reader cannot be in the rain with your characters.

Want to practice right now? Share in the comments any scene from the last twenty-four hours of your life. Connect with all of your senses as you remember. How did it feel, taste, smell, look, and sound?

Photo Credit: © March 22, 2010 Mateusz Nowacki

How to Use Sensory Description to Bring Your Story to Life

As writers, we bring readers inside our stories by crafting artful and sensory sentences. If I simply stated, for example, that my father molested me, of course you’d think that’s sad, but you might not feel the sadness.

Or, if I simply told you that I once struggled with a sexual addiction, you’d probably think “that’s unfortunate.” But you wouldn’t feel my words, emotionally.

Here, for example, by using sensory language (from Love Sick) to describe a seedy motel room where I met a dangerous man, I try to fully reveal the darkness of the addiction: “I feel a damp chill between my shoulder blades. How can love be two bodies wrapped in a sheet that’s singed by careless cigarettes, here, in a room with plastic curtains, tin ashtrays, stained carpet, and artificial air.”

The words we seek are those that artistically re-create and illuminate our worlds, internal and external, on the page, by evoking how those worlds feel, taste, sound, smell, look. As much as possible, avoid abstract words and rely, instead, on the five senses.

Rather than write, for example, “I was in love with a cute guy,” you could write, “John’s hands, the color of cinnamon, stroked my bare shoulders.”

Do you see how the first sentence sounds flat and informational? In the second, however, you can smell cinnamon, and feel that cute guy stroking your shoulders.

Let’s try a brief writing exercise. In one sentence, describe your favorite item of clothing from elementary school. In the description, try to slant the external details in such a way that they evoke an interior feeling.

Here is what I mean: Let’s say, for example, my favorite item of clothing was a yellow dress. If I felt happy on the day I wore it, I would write: “When I wore my yellow dress, I felt as if buttercup petals sprinkled from the hem as I skipped to school.”

If, on the other hand, I felt sad on the day I wore it, I would write: “The dress cast a pall on my skin, sickly and yellow.”

We write memoir to better understand ourselves, as well as to bring a reader with us on our journeys. To ensure the reader feels the fullness of your story, focus each scene around sensory imagery.

University of Georgia Press, paperback

Watch Fearless Confessions’ book trailer video on YouTube

Everyone has a story to tell. “Fearless Confessions“ is a guidebook for people who want to take possession of their lives by putting their experiences down on paper or in a website or e-book. Enhanced with illustrative examples from many different writers as well as writing exercises, this guide helps writers navigate a range of issues from craft to ethics to marketing and will be useful to both beginners and more accomplished writers.

Author Sue William Silverman says: “It’s crucial to cultivate the courage to tell one’s truth in the face of forces – from family members to the media – who would prefer that people with inconvenient pasts remain silent.

Sue William Silverman’s memoir, Love Sick: One Woman’s Journey through Sexual Addiction (W. W. Norton), is also a Lifetime Television original movie. Her first memoir, Because I Remember Terror, Father, I Remember You, won the AWP award in creative nonfiction. She teaches in the MFA in Writing Program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and her most recent book is Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir, published with the University of Georgia Press (View the video book trailer.) As a professional speaker, Sue has appeared on The View, Anderson Cooper 360, and CNN Headline News. For more about Sue, please visit

What’s in the works this August at WRA?

Wow, July just flew by didn’t it? I hope you had a fantastic month. I’m excited because, after a couple of lean months, the beginning of August has brought me a few new gigs. Others around me have found business picking up too! Is this a sign that the economy is improving, or that our marketing skills are blossoming? How is business for you?

This month we have some exciting features. The most notable being a fantastic Blog Tour with Sue William Silverman, author of “Fearless Confessions: A Writer’s Guide to Memoir“. I will share my review of her book on the 10th of August but in a few days you will have an opportunity to suggest questions for inclusion in my interview of Sue (tentatively scheduled for the 17th) and enter this months contest for a chance to win a copy of “Fearless Confessions“. Sue joins us again on the 21st with a fantastic post about using Sensory Description.

I have a few other posts lined up from me and I hope some other writer’s will consider adding contributions of their own this month. If you’re not involved in our collaborative blogging project find out how you can become a WRA writer!

With this fantastic line-up be sure to subscribe via RSS so you don’t miss a thing. Is there something you want to read about or a topic of particular interest to you at the moment? Leave your suggestions in the comments or send me an email. What would you like to see on Writer’s Round-About this month?