Saturday, December 3, 2011

Adverbial Adversarial

A terrifyingly large segment of the publishing industry is flatly, inflexibly *against* the use of (existence of?) adverbs.  It's one of those things I've never understood.  Sure, "I am angry," he said angrily is a poor piece of writing.  But adverbs came into existence in our language for a reason.  They do a job which sometimes can't be done another way as neatly.  Ahem.  "It isn't necessarily so" does not mean the same thing as "It isn't so" - sometimes, adverbs provide important content.

I was really happy to see this, is my point.  It's funny I happened to find this in my Twitter stream just this morning, because I'd been thinking of a post just like the one I'm writing last night before I went to bed - so it's nice to see that no less an entity than Harper Collins chose to Tweet it.

Kevyn Aucoin (RIP) said one that there are NO absolute rules for a makeup artist.  Not one.  Many artists and experts have acknowledged that exceptions make most rules.  I tend to be of this opinion about writing - there is no subject which MUST never be touched - no rule which must never be broken - no way of doing things we must not, cannot try.

In high school, one of my best teachers said we were never to use the words "things" or "stuff."  I refer you to the final sentence in my paragraph above, regarding my adherence to this rule.  Mrs. V. was wonderful and amazing - and the purpose of rules is to teach us something.  But if we never move beyond what we learn in class, our writing will never gain depth beyond what is taught us.  Sometimes, learning must be done by other means than instruction-by-pedagogue.  Several of us chose to respond to Mrs. V. by trying to find ways to use the phrase "stuff of life."  It was the only defense against totalitarianism by someone we loved, and who let us rebel against her in this way because she was no moron.  Her rule did something important for the kids who needed it.  For those of us who pushed at her with a smile ... we learned another way.  And, in my case, I like to think I moved well beyond the need for limiting my concern to the use of elementary terminology.

Adverbs don't just make a sentence memorable, they change its meaning. Sure, there are many times when a more precise verb can narrow the gap in understanding—but some verbs can't be fine-tuned any further. A sigh is just a sigh, but anyone who has ever been in love knows how important it is to distinguish between when she sighs happily and when she sighs otherwise.

This is the role and value of adverbs.  We have adjectives for a reason - modification is *necessary* to our tongue.  True every bit as much of verbs as it is of nouns.  Nouns are not the only parts of speech which can own character so particular it needs to be explicated.  Verbs are not by nature so much more descriptive of themselves than nouns--so it is unfair to deny them the companionship, or support, of adverbial modification.

Less, yes, is always more.  But our language - maybe all language - comes with descriptors for a reason.  Cooking without basil might well ruin dinner tonight.  Likewise, paring creative writing down by removing an entire class of descriptiveness - of *creativity* - lessens what can be done with words.

Why any writer, editor, or agent really wants to see that - I've never properly understood.


Anonymous said...

Nicely done.

Anonymous said...

I like what you said about rules. If we followed the rules, all novels would be about misunderstood writers, and their diffificult relationships with their fathers.

DLM said...

Thank you! Rules serve a purpose, of course - they can help keep us honest, or provide discipline when what comes out of our heads, pens, or keyboards may be (*gasp!*) in need of editing. But language, too, develops its structure for good reason. To eliminate entire parts of speech without consideration or review is just silly.