Monday 17 February 2020

An attack of the adverbs by Tracy Darnton

Ah the joy of getting out the red pen! 

I taught a session to new writers on building up an editor’s toolkit this week. We thought about the ‘tics’ we all have as writers and the merits of a list of our overused words or bad habits - and how to employ the Find and Replace (I prefer Seek and Destroy) function in Word.

I issued red pens and everyone enjoyed ripping to pieces a page which I’d managed to cram full of problems with voice, pacing, tense etc as well as a healthy dose of typos and style errors.  It’s always easier to spot mistakes in other people’s writing than your own – and much more enjoyable to red-ink them. 

Get out that red pen yourself and slash and burn your way through my Attack of the Adverbs exercise below. Think about how adverbs can weaken a meaning or make the whole section annoyingly tentative and wishy-washy, but also how that might be exactly what’s required for characterisation or effect. 

“Well, as always, it’s basically down to you and the sort of style you truly want to achieve but it’s also kind of a useful exercise somehow. Suddenly your writing might seem really tight or indeed it might just appear somewhat bare. It’s utterly your choice,” the editor pleaded defiantly.

And now do the opposite. Use your red pen to add to this writing which is very tight (or bare, depending on your point of view):

“It’s up to you,” said the editor.

Somewhere between the two you might find your sweet spot. We’re making these stylistic choices in every sentence we write. So fish out your red pen and analyse your own prose once in a while and notice the choices you make.

And don’t get me started on speech tags …

Tracy Darnton is the author of The Truth About Lies. Her next novel, The Rules, is based on her short story in I'll Be Home for Christmas. She has an MA in Writing for Young People and a wide selection of red pens.


Susan Price said...

I like editing. I'm editing a book now. It constantly amazes me that I make the same mistake, book after book. For instance, I've just found, 'the screen was showing...,' which I corrected to, 'the screen showed.'
In another place I'd written that a character 'was feeling grateful' instead of 'felt grateful.'
I wish I knew why I always use this 'was *ing ***' construction when it annoys me and I always change it when editing. Why can't I write 'was grateful' to begin with. I'd save so much time and annoyance. And I would be feeling so grateful.

Steve Gladwin said...

Considering how I kicked and screamed over it once, I pretty much enjoy it now. Thanks Tracey.