Monday, August 3, 2015

The rules—and why we need to KNOW them before we can break them

Mary Connealy
I was at a writer’s conference a week ago and as I sat in sessions, trying to retain anything in my overloaded, overwhelmed brain, one thing stood out to me.

It came up several times on different topics.


It’s okay to break the rules but you have to KNOW them before you can break them.


 I started asking WHY.


And I came up with an answer that applies in a lot of places but what struck me was the rule against using –ly words. Mainly adverbs.


Happily, angrily, noisily, nervously.


And here’s the reason why.


AS A RULE using an adverb is lazy. It’s a dead sentence. 




And making a LIVE sentence from a dead one is so easy.
Here’s a dead example.

“I’ll never forgive you for this,” she said angrily.


Okay the reason this is lazy and dead is because in essence you are calling your reader stupid. You are writing a sentence that is so clearly angry, then you’re TELLING your reader, “Hey, pssst, in case you didn’t notice, she’s really ANGRY.”


To which your reader reacts by beginning to skim. The author says it right once and wrong once and this book could be cut from 80,000 words to 40,000 in a heartbeat.


Almost always the –ly word is either redundant or it’s an easy way out of what could be a HARD but lively scene.


“I’ll never forgive you for this.” Her eyes brimmed with tears of rage as she jabbed her index finger right at his face. One wrong move and she might put his eye out.


Or another really STRONG way to write it is simply, "I'll never forgive you for this."

That's it. No tags. Let it stand on it's own.

“I can’t speak to my mother like that,” she whispered shyly.

His outrageous advice made her cheeks flame pink. Her shoulders hunched forward as if she was folding in on herself. She shook her head frantically and spoke barely above a whisper. “I can’t speak to my mother like that.”


Now see here, I’ve used ‘frantically’ and ‘barely’. These are adverbs. And thus I break the rules and its okay. There’s not a rule against adverbs because they’re always evil, they are just mostly evil.


If you have been writing a while and go back to look at early work you will see tons of sentences (well I DID!) in your work that are very much like,….she said angrily.


When you’re first beginning and you’re trying to act out a scene you want to tell your readers what your characters are FEELING, thus the adverbs. But they are wrong. They are the easy way out…which also equals the ‘bad writing’ way out.



Click to Buy
If there are any rules you don’t like or don’t understand or don’t believe in, let’s talk about them. One possibility is you DO understand them well enough to break them, in which case that is fine. But if you don’t quite get them (and it takes a while to get them, and then longer still to apply them to your work), maybe we can hash out what’s confusing you.

For the record, one of my early contest critiques had the words POV ERROR tagged in multiple places. I had no idea what that meant and it took me a couple of more years to fully and deeply understand that rule. So we all have a learning curve and I’m betting mine is as slow of a rise to knowledge as anyone's.


LEAVE A COMMENT TO GET YOUR NAME IN A DRAWING FOR A COPY OF NOW & FOREVER


NOW & FOREVER

Bk #2 Wild at Heart Series
Shannon Wilde is the middle sister--and the one who loves animals. She's established her own homestead and is raising sheep for their wool. Things are going fine...until Shannon gets swept over a cliff by Matthew Tucker!

Tucker seizes every opportunity to get away from civilization, but one particular walk in the woods ends with him sprinting away from an angry grizzly and plunging into a raging river, accidentally taking Shannon Wilde with him. Their adventure in the wilderness results in the solitary mountain man finding himself hitched to a young woman with a passel of relatives, a homestead, and a flock of sheep to care for.

As Tucker and Shannon learn to live with each other, strange things begin to happen on Shannon's land. Someone clearly wants to drive her off, but whoever it is apparently didn't count on Tucker. Trying to scare Matthew Tucker just makes him mad--and trying to hurt the woman he's falling in love with sets off something even he never expected.

"The humorous plot is balanced by suspense-filled drama that unfolds, exposing more of the lives of the Wilde sisters. Readers will be waiting for the third installment with open arms." -RT Book Reviews

108 comments:

Terri said...

Mary, I struggle to not be lazy. I don't tend to use tags, but I still want to tell.

Terri felt heat engulf her neck and face as she read the words of wisdom in Mary's post. "Would she ever learn?" Her shoulders hunched forward and she closed the file containing her latest manuscript.

Vince said...

Hi Mary:

If you have to know the rules before you can break them, aren't you better off never learning the rules because in that case you can't break them.

As far as adverbs being evil, wouldn't that make 'godly' behavior evil? Words are not evil, it's the use they are put to that can be evil.

Also, the adverb in this sentence: " 'I’ll never forgive you for this,' she said angrily" -- conveys useful in formation. Suppose we change to a different adverb: "'I’ll never forgive you for this,' she said laughingly". That second adverb conveys a whole different set of meanings.

An author can't just assume that the sentence, "I’ll never forgive you for this,” by itself will be taken the right way by the reader. Adverbs are a way to tell the reader she got it right.

I think the only thing wrong with adverbs is the rule against using them. I put it in there with 'show, don't tell' because you have to tell to show --unless you're making a movie.

Here's what I think:

"You have to know why a given rule was created in the first place before you can rightly determine if that rule should be applied in any given situation."

I never met a rule I liked. Beside who are these people who makes these rules? Do we ever get their names?

"Rules were made to be broken."

Vince

P.S. Please put me in the drawing for your book. Cowboys rule!

Tina Radcliffe said...

Have you been consorting with the Grammar Queen. I'm getting nervous. And Vince pointed out a show don't tell to me. The world must be ending.

Debby Giusti said...

I'm starting to find POV errors in my rough drafts. Is my inner muse longing to break the rules? LOL! I used to be a POV fanatic. Not so much now.

Vince said...

C O N F E S S I O N:

I have to confess. I have an axe to grind. For years, when I wrote ads for a furniture warehouse showroom, I used the tag line: "Famous Brand Furniture Direct to You". And for years old bitties would write and scold me pointing out that it should be "Famous Brand Furniture Directly to You". They said I was destroying the English language for American youth!

Well, using 'direct' was like jaywalking compared to the crimes against the language I was committing in the rest of my advertising! In English it does not have to be right as long as it sounds right and if it sounds right, it will become right in time. It always does. : )

Also, I was deliberately using alternate meanings to muddy up the water and grind my axe. I really loved Mary's post! And I'd really like to win her book because it is the only one I don't have -- other than a few novella collections. I can't kept up with them -- not at my age. : > )

Mary Hicks said...

Vince, you put that so well—you just made my day! I know rules can be broken—in just about everything creative that we set out to do. But I do believe it's a good idea to know the rules that 'THEY' warn us about. Then 'YOU' decide whether to break, twist a little or throw them out.


Mary, I loved your book SWEPT AWAY. :-) Thanks for the fun examples in this post.:-)

kaybee said...

VINCE, advertising is hopeless and if we caught every grammar mistake we'd never do anything else. I see a lot of little gaffes on the local level, but my big national peeve is "Toys R Us." It should be "We Are Toys."
The other thing that irritates me is family home signs, such as "The Gunderson's" and "The Walker's." But that is a hopeless battle. They keep popping up like cockroaches.
I used to be a copy editor. I even correct the grammar in restaurant menus.
Kathy Bailey

kaybee said...

MARY, it is good to hear from you again and good to be reminded about the "LY" words. When I was growing up in the 50s we had a thing called "Tom Swifties" which made fun of excessive adverb use a la the Tom Swift books. "'I'm in a hurry,' Tom said swiftly." "'Get away from the stove,' Tom said hotly." That kind of thing.
Like many other issues in writing, the "LY" verbs point us back to what we should be thinking about all the time, Show, Don't Tell. IF we work on S.D.T., our adverb use will diminish over time -- or over the creation of a book.
Kathy Bailey

Mary Curry said...

"UGH, I hate rules," she said nicely.

Seriously, I feel like knowing rules has ruined reading for me. Not writing. Reading. I feel like being aware of writing rules constantly pulls me out of a story in a way that the "broken rules" themselves never did.

I had an interesting situation about "rules" come up in final edits for my book. A copy editor came back to me with a point in the story where I switched POV mid-scene. Ooops. I was consistent before and after the switch, but I did switch. We were very close to printing so my editor asked if I wanted to leave it or change it? My reaction - in the months leading up to that point at least 4 editors had read the chapter without noticing the switch. I had to really study it to realize the switch had happened. I loved the scene and had a very good reason for switching. It stayed as is.

Funny thing, you know the scene they put in the front of the book to entice the reader - yeah, that's the scene they chose from. Apparently the rule-breaking didn't ruin it.

I'm not entirely sure what my point is in all of this except - I'm not a fan of writing rules???

That said, I did really enjoy this post, Mary. You brought home the need to tighten and be concise. Writing is a craft, an art form - even when following rules. Word choice is everything.

Mary Hicks said...

Rules are like tests—they try us. I'm with you Mary Curry—UGH.

Wilani Wahl said...

Wow! I did not know that rule. I will have to look for it in my work. This is why I love Seekerville. I am always learning and hopefully (oops) applying what I learned.

Yesterday my non fiction wip was given back to me by a lady in my church who critiques work. I am so glad she was willing to read and comment. Every page has comments and major markings. I am not upset just so grateful for her comments and help to know where I need to make changes. Now if the vertigo that has been so strong all summer will let up enough so I can begin to make changes.

Have a great week everyone!

Myra Johnson said...

Personally, I appreciate a well-placed adverb. That's one of those rules where, if it suits, use it. If you're just being lazy, WRITE BETTER!!!!!

VINCE, here's one interpretation of the direct/directly conundrum.

Jewell Tweedt said...

Thanks for the lesson Mary. I finished reading Now and Forever Friday and it's still in my head.
That's good thing.

Vince said...

The First Rule Ever Made!

Let us pause to remember that the first rule even made, 'don't eat from the fruit of the forbidden tree' was summarily broken.

I think there is a moral premise in this somewhere.

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

Your link is amazing! I never would have thought for a moment that 'direct' is also an adverb as well as an adjective!!! I wish I knew this 30 years ago.

Thought for the Day:

"The grass is always greener where the forbidden fruit grows."

Myra Johnson said...

Eating Forbidden Fruit leads to sorrow, failure, and pain; but . . .

Eating Recommended Fruit leads to happiness, success, and true love.

How's that for a Moral Premise, VINCE?

Myra Johnson said...

The grass always LOOKS greener where the forbidden fruit grows, but in reality it's just our wishful thinking.

Sandra Leesmith said...

Well after reading this post and the comments I can surely pick out the rebel rousers. LOL

I break rules all the time and that is because I never remember them. I summarily hide from the Grammar Queen. And that is why I hire copy editors.

I never get where the stupid comma goes. I'm always having to correct those after a copy edit. LOL

But I'm happy. So there.

Deanne said...

Thank you for such an interesting post today. I just recently read an older series of yours,Mary. It starts with the woman hesaring a horse galloping past her house as if chased by someone. It turns out to be the twin brother of her deceased husband who had recently been hanged. Those are the first books and series I've read by you. With writing this excellent I am most definitely looking forward to reading "Now and Forever". Please enter me in the drawing.

Deanne Patterson
Cnnamongirl at aol dot com

Cindy Regnier said...

Show not tell is my nemesis, though I do throw in an adverb on occasion. I refuse to believe any of the Seekers make mistakes. Break rules, maybe, but mistakes? No way. Mary, if you had POV error it was an intentional breaking of the rule, not an error. I am almost finished reading With this Spark and I have loved it! Thank you Seekers!

Sandy Smith said...

Interesting post, Mary. Adverbs are something I am constantly looking for in my writing when I am finished. Now, I just used the adverb constantly, because it fit. If I were to take it out, I would have to say "I am looking for adverbs all the time." That uses three words instead of one to say the same thing. Using the adverb seems to make the sentence stronger in my opinion. So maybe that's what you mean about knowing when to break the rule. But when word count is tight, it isn't easy to use more words to say the same thing. Does anybody else have trouble with that?

Please enter me in the drawing.

Jackie said...

Wow, Mary. Thanks for permission to use an -ly word occasionally.

Have a great day!

Rachael Koppendrayer said...

"My eyes scanned the page, and the bottom dropped out of my stomach when I realized she had done it: she had broken The Rule. THE ONE RULE TO RULE THEM ALL. And she had done it without shame."

The world would have ended if any sentence I wrote up through twelfth grade failed to have both a subject and a verb. I might have gotten away with it in college--professors tend to be liberal, and I think half of them lost their use of basic grammar, spelling, and math skills before they reached tenure--but nowhere is it so common (and used to such great effect) as in fiction.

And, of course, you should never start a sentence with a conjunction (never mind that it can add emphasis to your point). Another rule I don't mind breaking on occasion.

Vince said...

Hi Myra:

You wrote:

"Eating Forbidden Fruit leads to sorrow, failure, and pain; but . . .

Eating Recommended Fruit leads to happiness, success, and true love.


How's that for a Moral Premise, VINCE?"

I think even Stanley D. Williams would be proud to have created that moral premise. It would make a great romance, say like, "Autumn Rains" maybe!

Do you know how good you really are?
Wow!

Vince

Mary Connealy said...

"Terri," Mary said sympathetically, "don't feel so badly about your self." Mary frowned deeply in sadness. :)

Mary Connealy said...

Vince I have to disagree with you on this one.
If your sentence doesn't convey what's going on sufficiently, you need to rewrite your sentence. But better still to tag it in a way that really advances your story. Or what leads up to it. I'd say CLEARLY (adverb alert) this is almost always redundant and, in fact lazy for yourself, the easy way out. And redundant and thus boring and thus a big NO NO to readers. It's the kind of sentence tag that grinds a story to a halt. And it's SUBTLE and it's short and any reader will read on but it's not the richest possible choice.
And oh, by the way it's an EXCELLENT example of telling when we should be showing.

Mary Connealy said...

I've read so many contest entries where this mistake is made. Of course you can do it occasionally and of course adverbs have a place in any manuscript if used correctly. But the way I tagged that sentence is I believe WRONG 100% of the time. A missed opportunity to do better, do more, show rather than tell.
And I also know I have to tell sometimes but that can be done right or done poorly too.

Myra Johnson said...

LOL, VINCE, I've been watching several Moral Premise teaching videos lately! ;-D

And wow, I'll take all the compliments you want to send my way!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Advertising is a VERY different breed of cat.
It reminds of cartoons which have to be SO BRIEF and are so sharp and witty.
I really admire people dealing with this intensely short form who can do so much with so few words. It's a real gift.

It's very different than novel writing but ads and cartoons are an art form of their own.

Mary Connealy said...

Kathy I wonder if the rules are different for books for younger audiences?
Or maybe the rules were different back then. No idea.
Swifties huh? I read so many books when I was growing up. Somehow I missed Tom Swift.

Mary Connealy said...

I read some more modern ya book, not The Babysitters Club but something like that and it was FULL of exclamation marks to the point it was just a joke.
I wondered about that too. Exclamation marks are their own kind of adverb, telling the reader how the character feels. Also a big no no.

Mary Connealy said...

Mary Hicks did you get the free copy of Swept Away? I hope so. Swept Away is free right now (and not for much longer) in all ebook formats.
Even if you have a paper copy, grab the ebook too. You can carry it around with you where ever you go!!!!!!!!!!!!!

(that's heartwarming don't you think?)

Mary Connealy said...

Mary Curry, I do that sometimes and I'll completely miss it. Switch from one POV to another. I read a lot of books where characters head hop and it bothers me NOT AT ALL.

Still, I'm in the habit now so I stick with it. Except when I lose my way. It's tricky!!!!!!!!!!!!

I often think the reason I switch is because SO MANY SENTENCES can be written in such a way that no real RAZOR SHARP POV is apparent. They stand alone and no one's POV is needed really. So if you write a scene like that and you're gone a LONG way without any obvious reference to interior thought in the POV character it's not that hard to forgot whose head you're in.

Mary Connealy said...

Wilani! I hope you feel better soon.
That was nice of that lady to critique your work. And she's a skilled editor? Make sure the changes are ones< you believe in, don't just blindly (<AA) obey her.

Mary Connealy said...

AND MYRA WEIGHS IN. YAY.
I also believe adverbs have a place in our writing...of course they do. It's the overuse of them that has created that rule.

Mary Connealy said...

JEWELL I'm so glad you enjoyed it.
I suppose it's back to work soon for you!
And I managed to go the whole summer without seeing you.

sigh

Mary Connealy said...

My 'don't use -ly rules' don't rise to the level of being banished from the garden if you break it.
So everyone can REMAIN CALM.

Mary Connealy said...

I certainly appreciate this heavenly debated based on my humble blog post.
I admit it scares me a little.

And ... editor alert again ... Sandra it's RABBLE ROUSERS. Although I sort of like rebel rousers. It's revolutionary.

Mary Connealy said...

I certainly appreciate this heavenly debated based on my humble blog post.
I admit it scares me a little.

And ... editor alert again ... Sandra it's RABBLE ROUSERS. Although I sort of like rebel rousers. It's revolutionary.

Mary Connealy said...

Deanne that is Petticoat Ranch, to which you refer. (<<grammar alert)
I still love that series. One of my favorites. I've been writing a lot of novellas lately with the kids from those series all grown up and finding love.


sniffle

Mary Connealy said...

Aw, Cindy, you sweet thing. May the day every come when I have as much faith in myself as you have in me. LOL

It's still a ways off!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Sandy That is a great point and your use of CONSTANTLY is solid and well done.

I honestly think the rule should be...don't use -ly words as stand alone emotional description in a sentence tag. That's where they are weak and redundant...at least mainly.

Mary Connealy said...

Jackie, you are most welcome. :)

Mary Connealy said...

Rachael, I sort of like starting a sentence with a conjunction occasionally.

I'm a rebel that way.

Mary Connealy said...

VINCE IS HAVING FUN!!!! That's always good to see. LOL

Janet Dean said...

Mary, your post and the comments are so much fun and have given me lots to think about. I want to "see" the speaker so I love this example of showing the character:

“I’ll never forgive you for this.” Her eyes brimmed with tears of rage as she jabbed her index finger right at his face. One wrong move and she might put his eye out.

That jabbing finger is going to make the hero and the reader react far more than just the spoken words. Active dialogue ups the conflict.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Mary Curry, LI has the POV per scene rule but many single title writers move from one POV to another in a scene. The trick is doing it seamlessly, which you obviously did. Go you!

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Myra, you are the Princess of Moral Premise!

Janet

Debby Giusti said...

Mary Curry...

Perhaps your inner muse and mine are BFFs! :)

Vince, love your moral premise!

Wait, that was Myra's moral premise! Sorry, Vince. The credit goes to Myra.

Taking a break to find good fruit...

Vince said...

Hi Mary:

I just love it when you disagree with me! Philosophers live on disagreement. How wonderful. However, you make it sound like being lazy is a negative.

Probably the laziest writer who actually published was Mickey Spillane who hated working so much he would not write a novel until he ran out money. Then he would stay in a hotel room for three weeks and knock out his next mystery. Then he would go back to being lazy.

I must say I'm a little bit insulted by your correction of Sandra for using rebel rousers instead of rabble rousers!!! (Note the three exclamation points?) Sam Adams was a rebel rouser. There was nothing wrong with that. Now do you really think Sandra was referring to Seekers and Seeker friends as rabble? Are we going to take to the street of Seekerville with pitchforks next?

Yes, I'm having fun.

Vince

Missy Tippens said...

Loved your examples, Mary. And loved how you said it kills the sentence. Great points!

Missy Tippens said...

LOL, Mary Curry!!

Mary Connealy, I also meant to say I like the way you showed the use of adverbs in a better way. So it's not like we'll get arrested for using them. :)

Vince said...

Hi Debby:

You are so right. Myra gets credit for that moral premise formulation.

BTW: My wife finished her first romance novel ever last night! (She won't even read mine!)

It was your new book and she nabbed it so fast when it came into the house that I don't even know the title yet! She called this morning to say that the last four chapters were amazing! She loved it. (She's at her mother's house taking care of her 93 year old mother and father. Reading gives her great comfort.)

If I was doing your marketing, I'd try to get word to every David Baldacci fan, who likes John Puller, (too many to count) that you have more CID warrant officer agent books than Baldacci is likely to write! I will have to see if that can be put into my review of the Puller title I'm now reading. In fact, I've read two I have not reviewed. I need to look into this.

Let's get to work on that 'if you liked David Baldacci, you may love Debby Giusti.' You have me, my wife, Mary and Tina. (I'm always thinking marketing.)

Vince

Jan Drexler said...

I learned that "don't use -ly words" rule, too, but I'm a rule breaker at heart - IF it helps my writing. I'll break all kinds of rules if doing so adds to the story.

But I agree wholeheartedly with your main point - don't let lazy writing be the hallmark of your stories! Breaking the rules because you know them and use the exceptions effectively is much different than breaking the rules because you don't know any better.

So we all better know those rules if we want to be excellent writers :)

And I'm not surprised you've never heard of "Tom Swifties." They are/were a staple of the joke page in the back of Boy's Life magazine.

One of my favorites is "Let us leave," she said crisply. (In case someone doesn't get it, pronounce "let us leave" as "lettuce leaf")

Yes, it's a groaner!

DebH said...

Mary
Great post. Love it. Knowing the rules so you can break them intelligently has long been in my playbook, thanks to animation courses and the sage advice of one Chuck Jones (the man who drew Bugs Bunny). I love your examples and had a paradigm shift with the idea that using -ly words points to lazy writing. Lightbulb moment.*ding*

Enjoying watching Vince having fun in the comments.

Sandra I'm with you. Commas get me all the time.

No need to enter me in the draw. I have the book (even reviewed it!). Tucker is my favorite Connealy hero to date (only barely beating out Seth). Love me that mountain man!!!!!!

Sarah Claucherty said...

So many good points today, Mary! Don't add me to today's drawing, I already have a copy of Now and Forever coming from a previous giveaway!!

Vince said...

Hi Mary:

Here's another chance to disagree with me.

Lazy writing makes for easy reading. When you show, the reader has to infer from what you have shown exactly what you are trying to tell her with your showing. This interpretation slows things down.

I can tell you this: I have been pulled out of more stories by authors showing me things that I didn't interpret the way the author intended on the first reading than I have ever been pulled out of a story by the use of an adverb.

Where are the studies that show that adverbs pull readers out of stories? I think they only pull authors out of stories. And I think those authors are getting exactly what they deserve!

I think 'showing' is more about 'showing off' than it is about moving the story along. That's why we have always had 'storytellers' rather than 'storyshowers'. Actually adverbs don't really bother me that much but telling vs showing does.

Okay!

Standing by.

One if by land. Two if by sea.


Vince

Kathryn Barker said...

Thanks for the Rule Reminders, Mary. They aren't embedded in my mind yet. Seems easiest (uh...is this the lazy way?) to think about when editing after I get words on paper...? And I, too, have never been bothered by head hopping...I think it's 'cause I'm inhabited by many peeps anyway...and I listen to them...sometimes all at once! So, what's the difference if they are in a book or in my head? LOL!!

No need to enter me in the drawing...I have Now & Forever...thanks Mary!! It's in my TBR stack and I can't wait to get to it!!

Feeling a little elevenish...making toast to have with my tea...have a fabulous Monday everyone!!

Vince said...

Hi kaybee:

I had a fifth grade nun who loved 'Tom Swifties'. But the lesson I took from these jokes was to learn how to use adverbs to put more action into my writing! Has it taken me nearly 60 years to get it? (Don't tell Mary!!!)

Also, you are right about advertising! I'll bet advertising alone has added more neologisms to the language than the average person has in their vocabulary.

Remember the ad that had an English teacher at the blackboard crossing out the word 'like' and replacing it with the word 'as' in the headline: "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should"?

Give it up. You just can't win! : )

Vince

Mary Hicks said...

Yes, MaryC, I did get your book, Swept Away, for free. Thank you! I know now that I'm safe buying your books—I was flying across the words by the time I closed in on the last pages! :-)

Standing around visiting after church one Sunday evening just after finishing your book, I had the opportunity to discuss it with several of the young women at church—and was happy to do so. :-)

Myra Johnson said...

VINCE, I may have to invite Grammar Queen back one of these days to give a class on the "like/as" issue.

Debby Giusti said...

Vince, I'm LOL in Georgia...but I greatly appreciate your wife's kind words about my story.

I'd love to use Baldacci in my promo material. Thanks for the tip...and I'm still laughing. I haven't read one of his "Puller" books yet. Must do so ASAP and see how he handles the CID! "If you liked David Baldacci, you may love Debby Giusti!" Way to go, Vince!

God bless your wife for caring for her mother! Prayers for Mama and Linda...and for you, Vince, as you await her homecoming.

BTW, tell Linda that she's made my day! Hugs to both of you!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Busy day on the farm, I just got over here! I can't believe that.

Mary, this is a perfect example of why using too many adverbs becomes a crutch.

Of course 35 years ago, everyone used them and no one thought anything of it.

And now there's a current push to only use "said" because it "disappears". So we shouldn't use "agreed, insisted, argued..."

Well, that's just silly talk because there is nothing wrong with the occasional strong verb. Like the adverbs, they're weakened by overuse, but using "said" is kind of like reading a 3rd grade novel and honestly.... I would hope the American public can be trusted to have moved beyond third grade.

Wonderful tips, thank you!!!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

I'm a rule breaker.

I like being a rule breaker.

That's part of my love for indie to balance things out. I can bend my rules and that's fun. But I also respect the "rules" of publishers, when their money is backing my work. I love paychecks, so if they need me to do something a certain way... or make changes... I'm good with that. Once they buy my work, I'm okay with making it fit their line.

In those cases I totally trust the editors/producers to know what will sell to their peeps!

But I love breaking rules!!! Ruthy, unleashed!

Myra Johnson said...

RUTHY, I hear you about "said." My way to avoid it is to just give the line of dialogue but then use a beat to indicate who's speaking. Example:

"I'm going shopping." With a jaunty wave, Ruthy grabbed her purse and skipped out to the car.

Or . . .

"I'm going shopping." Grumbling under her breath, Ruthy grabbed her purse and stomped out to the car.

Pretty obvious in each instance what Ruthy's mood is, huh? No adverbs needed!

Janet Dean said...

Mary, Now and Forever is at the top of the list of books, at least right now.

Janet

Janet Dean said...

Oops, Mary, should have said: Top of the list of your books.

Janet

Mary Connealy said...

Personally I'm so anxious over whether Debby found truly good fruit, I'm unable to deal with hardly ANYTHING else.

Mary Connealy said...

Philosophers thrive on disagreement?

You know on a serious note, I remember when I was in college my professors thrived on opinion, they challenged us. They didn't stand up front and say, "I'm right and you're getting an F."
Instead they said, "Defend your opinion. Why did you choose an answer I saw is wrong."

It made for such HEALTHY debate and I think it definitely was a strong teaching tool, as well as being a blade against which the professor could sharpen himself.

I used to tell my kids that when they got to college, defend and debate, professors are confident enough to handle it.

I believe by that point I was WRONG and college professors had changed, or at least a lot of them had.

Once again MAMAs advice proved faulty.

Janet Dean said...

Vince, telling the story using descriptive details creates more emotion than a string of adverbs. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. LOL

Could this difference of opinion be a male/female thing?

Janet

Mary Connealy said...

Sorry for the long break in comments. I'm actually on VACATION. with two of my daughters, my son-in-law and three grandbabies.
Someone dangled a ONE YEAR OLD in front of me and I forgot there was a world outside.

BUT it's naptime and I'm back!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Missy, it is absolutely true that a sentence like 'she said angrily' grinds the action to a half. It's like hitting a speed bump in one of those residential neighborhoods.
Readers start skimming to dig the story out of the slow parts and you've lost them.

Mary Connealy said...

VINCE if you're still checking in, I've read all three John Puller books now. And I'm going to read more Baldacci. He's got 29 books out darn it!!!!!!!!!!! You KNOW I don't have time for this.

Mary Connealy said...

Jan!!! I wish I'd said THIS!!!
Breaking the rules because you know them and use the exceptions effectively is much different than breaking the rules because you don't know any better.

Caryl Kane said...

This was a fun post!

Mary Connealy said...

DebH you seem to be drawn to the wild men!!!!!
I'm taking that as a challenge!

My current hero is sane as the day is long and tougher than a boot heel.

But I'll work in a wild man asap. :)

Mary Connealy said...

SARAH! I heard you didn't get the book. I'm away from home until Saturday but Monday Morning your book WILL GO OUT!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Vince all of this is a balancing act but I do know this.
If I write, "She said angrily."
All my readers are going to KNOW she's angry but they are not going to be angry themselves.

Part of showing is dragging the reader in and taking them along for the ride. If It Is Well Done (and that is always always key of course to do it WELL) the reader isn't sitting there reading about an angry woman, the reader IS THE ANGRY WOMAN. The reader is deeply involved, when the heroine is cold the reader feels it biting into his or her skin. When he's baffled, the reader feels it and understands what he doesn't but also understands why he's confused.
It's AAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLL about pulling the reader deep into the story and 'she said angrily' is very likely NOT going to do it.

Of course you can break this rule but do it wisely and rarely and KNOWLINGLY. (three adverbs in a row!)

Mary Connealy said...

Vince and Kathy-kaybee, I took advertising in college and much as I am annoyed by the endless ads on TV...we all know they work. Companies don't throw away money. They may not always succeed but they are all there for a carefully considered business reason.

Mary Connealy said...

MARY HICKS!!!!!!!!!! THAT'S THE SPIRIT!!!!!!!!!!!
Keep pushing my books!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
You have my strongest thanks!!!!!!!!!!!!

(shocker huh?)

Mary Connealy said...

Debby I'd love your take on John Puller. You know a lot about military life and I swear these books are so HONED by military knowledge that I can't believe Baldacci can pull it off.
And he used acronyms so casually and extensively referring to all sort of military programs....I went to his Wikipedia page to see if he was former military.

He must've had a real crack advisor helping him.

I've loved these Puller books. The third is the best but I don't know if you'll appreciate it a fraction if you don't read books 1 & 2 first because it's really triumphant.

They are very Jack Reacher-esque

Mary Connealy said...

Ruthy!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! we can't use SAID anymore?
You know I use it sparingly but sometimes it's just the only word that works.

I may be too old to learn new tricks.

Mary Connealy said...

Uh-oh, Ruthy is unleashed.

Everyone buckle up!!!!!!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Myra EXCELLENT EXAMPLES.

I wish I could get the COMMENTS before I write the post, you're all doing it better than I am. And I suppose that wouldn't work out well. Hmmmmmmmmmmm

Mary Connealy said...

JANET THANK YOU! I have loved the Wilde Woman series and honestly the third one Fire and Ice is, I believe so funny, so intense, such a great clash of strong hero/heroine...well, it's been a joy to write. And it's coming in October!!!!!!!! And it's August already so we're getting there!!!!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Hi Caryl, thanks for stopping in!!!!!!!!

Debby Giusti said...

Mary,

My grandma heart longs for a one-year old...

My eldest grand started middle school today. How can that be! She was a baby, I blinked, and now she's almost grown. LOL! (Glad grandma didn't get any older!)

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Myra, I agree. I like the action beats better, too.... but now and again I like to break those up with a verb. And I still use said occasionally, but it's so sophomoric that I cringe when I see people pushing that.

And when I cringe, then I must buy more anti-wrinkle cream!!! EEEEEK!

Ruth Logan Herne said...

No Mary, some publishers are pushing that you ONLY use "said"....

"Hey, Billy!" said Ned. "I was hoping to see you!"

"Do you want to walk to school together?" Billy looked excited.

"Yes," said Ned. "We can talk about football and maybe cheerleaders!"

"All right," said Billy. "I like football and cheerleaders. Let's go!"


This might be a SLIGHT EXAGGERATION of the Ruthy sort, but I really do think it's okay for authors to sound somewhat intelligent. I think readers respect that.

Ruth Logan Herne said...

Vince, you are right on with your observation. Some showing leaves the door open... but without a clear direction.

So the reader infers the wrong thing and then is surprised later. I've had that happen.

I usually blame Mary, because it's always, always, always her fault. That makes me feel better about just about everything!!!!

Mary Connealy said...

Debby for heaven's sakes WHAT ABOUT THE FRUIT!!!!????
And our little 1 yo grandson is a CHAMP.
Contented (finally!!! He's put his mama through her paces, let me tell you!) and with the best six tooth smile you're ever seen. He's even stopped putting 50% of the deadly stuff he picks up in his mouth.

This is progress but we still consider caring for him a 24/7 suicide watch.

Mary Connealy said...

Didn't most of the authors who got published before the NO HEAD-HOPPING rule get to keep head hopping?
I say we're grandfathered in to the SAID avoidance.

Mary Connealy said...

Glad I can be here for you, Ruthy. And yes, everything is mostly my fault.

I still blame myself for the Jennifer Garner/Ben Affleck breakup. :( Sorry about that.

DebH said...

Mary, you are cracking me up. Are you to blame for Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert splitting up too?

I remember the watching child unit days of toddler time. Guppy managed to get his hands on lawn fertilizer while hubby and I were doing yard work. He took a lick, but left his tongue hanging out because it was so nasty tasting. We wiped his tongue and hosed his hands off and called 911 just in case he swallowed something. The ambulance people checked him out and all was good. They even stopped by a couple hours later just to check on whether our little guy had a change in how he felt.

Funny thing was, the trainee for the ambulance riding along that day was a teammate of mine on the women's volleyball team I was playing on that summer. It made it easy for them to check Guppy over because he knew her and liked sitting on her lap.

Chill N said...

When you’re first beginning and you’re trying to act out a scene you want to tell your readers what your characters are FEELING, thus the adverbs.

I noticed this in some of my early writing and believe it was much like setting a bookmark to go back to later. The trouble is, I didn't go back :-) I tend to not use dialogue tags, which seems to be an easy (and wholly unintentional) way of avoiding some adverbs. My lazy way of avoiding adverbs, maybe?

As a reader, very little will make me start skimming as much as sentences where the punctuation mark makes the dialogue tag redundant ... like "Get out of there!" she shouted or "Are you leaving already?" he asked. Add an adverb, and I skim all the faster. I try to remember that when I write. It's so easy to see in someone else's writing ... not so much in my own.

Loving the comments!

Oh, no need to enter me in the drawing.

Nancy C

Tanya Agler said...

Mary, Thanks for the interesting post. Today in my writing, I think I broke more writing grammar rules than ever before. Normally I try to replace was with a more active verb, but I couldn't think of another way to write-a friend was always welcome here.

There are times adverbs need to be used, just as there are times to be has to be used.

My brain is fried from filling out a bunch of first day of school paperwork, so I hope I made a little bit of sense (see right there I used a little which is usually a no-no!)

Thanks for the post.

Vince said...

A few points.

I've been away but I'm back. : )

PLEASE NOTE: I am not against not using adverbs. If you don't need them, don’t use them. What I don't like is someone making a rule that I cannot use them -- except if that someone is paying me for what I am writing, then I do what they want me to do! After all, I was an advertising copywriter for decades. I always gave clients what they wanted!

MYRA: Yes, please get the Grammar Queen to explain the difference between 'like' and 'as' because I don't have a clue.

MARY: Real philosophers do philosophy. If everyone agreed with them, then they would not be needed. In fact, people would most likely say: "So what?"

MARY: About college professors seeking a spirited debate: that's all changed now. We are now in the age of political correctness and safe zones -- that's where students won't hear anything they disagree with or that might injure their sensitivities. It's also a time to fight nano-aggressions on campus (that's when you think something bad about a member of a protected class and no one knows you're doing it -- it's not much of an aggression but it is the last frontier of independent thought and must be controlled.).

When I was at the University of California there was a free speech movement where students rioted to allow any speaker on campus. Today the students at UC riot to prevent any speaker they disagree with for speaking. All the gains of the free speech movement have been lost! : (

JANET: you wrote: " Vince, telling the story using descriptive details creates more emotion than a string of adverbs. That's my story and I'm sticking with it. LOL

Could this difference of opinion be a male/female thing?"


Here's the thing: descriptive details can contain adverbs and whether a string of adverbs is highly emotional will depend on the context in which they are used.

As/like Mary said: "All my readers are going to KNOW she's angry but they are not going to be angry themselves." Au contraire mon cheri, yes they will be angry if the heroine has just been the victim of a grave injustice. You can show all the injustice you want and still use an adverb. The two are not mutually exclusive.

It's not a male or female thing. It's like/as Mr. Spock would say, "It's just logical".

Mary wrote: " 'she said angrily' grinds the action to a halt." How could you possibly prove that statement? That's dogma. : )

"I'm going to kill everyone in that courtyard", she said angrily, as she pulled the pins on a dozen grenades and began throwing them four stories down into the crowd below. "

Now would you really start skimming this story at the word 'angrily'? Is not a dozen grenades exploding in the courtyard enough action for you?

I think if you really can't make your story a page-turner using adverbs in the text, then you really can't write. But I'll agree, you don't have to use them.

Did I miss anyone? : )


Vince

Sandra Leesmith said...

Good grief, Can't leave you alone for a minute and I DID MEAN REBEL rousers. I mean VINCE got it. You all are rebels not rabble. LOL

But then again, if you want to argue the point I could switch over to rabble. At least I'm not using an ly word to describe you. chuckle

Sandra Leesmith said...

Thanks DEB H, I'm so glad to know I'm not alone with the comma issue. Whew! good to have company. I'm always so embarrassed after I get my manuscript back from a copy editor. smile

Walt Mussell said...

Adverbs should be outlawed, but I guess since using them equals holding your writing back, that's punishment enough. Still a problem I struggle with and I keep verb lists.

Pam Hillman said...

I'm late to the party... go in EXACTLY 2000 words on my wip today.

So adverbs are like being "mostly dead" ala Wesley?

Got it! :)

Tina Pinson said...

And that POV rule is the one I genuinely want to break some times.

:-)

Julie Lessman said...

MARY!!! Mondays are sooooo bad for me at the Lake because I forget they exist ... :( A good thing if one is looking to enjoy life. Not so good if you forget to check in on a favorite blog and blogger, so PLEASE forgive me!!

I personally hated the limited POV rule, which I soundly broke in all of my books, but especially the 4th, which has eleven POV shifts in one scene. :)

Hugs!!
Julie

Cynthia T. Toney said...

Mary, I like your explanation of why and under which circumstances using an adverb is a mistake. New writers often run screaming from adverbs without knowing that all they need to do is proceed with caution. Although I now know better, I am reminded by this post to check my manuscripts for useless or lazy adverbs. I would love for my name to be placed in the drawing for your book.

Robin Mason said...

as a rule [ahem] my one rule is to know the rules before [so i can] break them!!

Rose Milligan said...

Thanks for the advice and giveaway. The girl on the cover looks gutsy and with the smirk you can tell the book will have little humor.

Rose M.
harnessrose(at)yahoo(dot)com

Pam said...

Even though I'm a reader, not a writer, this is interesting. I'm glad you show us with examples because that makes it so much more clear than just telling us the rules.
I love your books, Mary. You've learned these writing lessons well.

Kelly Blackwell @ Heres My Take On It said...

Thank you Mary for explaining why some rules can be broken and why they exist in the first place.