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!

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

Four Dimensions: Character Analysis Beyond 3d Characters

Four dimensions like four eyes give 3d characters added depth.Fleshing out characters (giving 3d characters four dimensions) is one of my favorite aspects of writing a story, perhaps more than weaving the plot. The human mind is complex, and in a story, every character is an outstanding individual, with their own story, dreams, hopes and fears. The possibilities are limitless, and I could spend all day uncovering the characters’ motivations, ideals, and inner workings.

Once the plot gets going, even complex 3d characters get busy with what’s going on around them, and are in danger of losing their personality quirks. When I’m writing through an exciting scene, I often forget that the characters wouldn’t act the way I would act. I have to go back and evaluate the scene, and whether they are acting true to character.

When that happens, I look over four dimensions of a character’s personality, to see if they are acting consistently throughout the story. These four dimensions can be determined at the beginning of a story, or infused at any point in time thereafter to bring out the best in your heroes.

Thoughts: The Hero’s Conscious Awareness

Discover through character analysis the four dimensions of your characters.Your characters each have their own perspective on the world. Their upbringing, education level, and current situation shape their thoughts and consequently their actions. A well-to-do, college-educated attorney will think about the world far differently than an abused high school dropout. They will be concerned about different things, have a particular sense of right and wrong, and analyze problems in unique ways. They will also hold themselves and their companions to separate standards, praising and criticizing under various circumstances.

The most common way we look at an individual’s thoughts today is through left brain, right brain analysis. In general, characters who are left brained think logically and rationally, working through a situation step-by-step to its conclusion. Right brained folks look at life on a grander scale, working holistically and creatively to solve problems. You can really flesh out a character’s thought patterns by figuring out if she’s left or right brained, and how she approaches critical thinking.

Feelings: What His Heart Wants

In direct opposition at times to the hero’s thought processes are his emotional reactions to the world. Before his brain gets a chance to analyze, his heart will express his initial reaction to external stimuli. Your protagonist will obviously have feelings about all the other characters he meets, whether they are good, bad, or indifferent feelings. This will color his actions in how much he interacts with others, and in what ways.

However, people have feelings about everything in their lives, not just other humans. She may feel that she is on the wrong course of action, even when she cannot think of a reason why this is so. Known as gut reactions, following your intuition, or even psychic awareness, these feelings crop up consistently throughout our lives. Your character may feel like wearing a red shirt today, even though her blue shirt is clean too. She may despise her best friend’s brother, even though she just met him and knows nothing about him. These are all human feelings that can take your story and characters down exciting new paths.

Actions: How He Presents Himself to the World

Your protagonist shapes his world and his story via his actions, how he interacts with other people and his environment. Actions reveal a lot about a person’s character, illuminating his thoughts and feelings with a tip of his hat. If your character doesn’t act, he doesn’t progress through the story, and will have to be helped along by his companions.

Actions are the home of “show, don’t tell”, where your heroine can really stand out from the crowd. If she pulls over to help an injured animal along the side of the road, she will come across as compassionate and nurturing, even if no one else in the story recognizes that fact. If she stands firmly against every obstacle in her path, readers will come to the conclusion that she is headstrong, determined, and perhaps a little ruthless. Actions really do speak louder than words, amongst your characters and to your readers as well.

Relations: How He Interacts with Others

Your hero does not live in a vacuum. He has to deal with other people, and all of the things that we do in our daily lives. Work, home, school, society, religion, health, goals, and values shape your character continuously. He has to relate to and react to all of these environmental influences on a daily basis, with certain aspects taking┬áprecedence depending on the day’s events.

How your character relates to her environment can provide new insights you may not have considered. If your protagonist is a diligent worker, yet lives in a messy home, she obviously has different values about what is acceptable in different settings. At the beginning of the story, she may be a self-proclaimed atheist, yet is presented with many challenges to her faith throughout the story arc. Whether she lets herself relate to those challenges, or remains unchanged, will give readers a new perspective on her personality.

These four dimensions of a character’s personality will give you unlimited characterization ideas and plot possibilities. Your readers will easily relate when the characters think, feel, act, and relate to the world in ways that we all do each day. When your heroine seems dull, go over these four dimensions and see if she has the opportunity to show of her amazing self!

How do you ensure that your characters are fleshed out and believable? To what standard do you hold them accountable? What tricks do you use to bring out the best in your heroes?

Photo Credit: Four Eyes by Carulmare
Photo Credit: Mask by Cliff1066tm