Writing: Achilles’ Heel

In my last couple posts, I tackled exclamation points and adverbs.

This morning, I had an epiphany that the reason I don’t worry about the above, is they’ve never been a problem for me.   Or, at least since can be remembered.  Perhaps my early childhood work was filled with gems like:    “The house is haunted!” she ear-piercingly screamed!

But luckily there is no evidence.

What is an Achilles’ Heel is the overuse of the same words and actions. Luckily, I’m aware of this and can duly edit.   But, man- do I have a thing for frigging eyes. Scorpios (Rising Scorp here) are noted for their intense stare.   Well, my characters are eye-hopping mad.  They not only stare- they look, they glance, they stare some more,  they look up, they look down, they glance around,  they darken, glint, and glisten….

The only thing they don’t do is roll their eyes.  That’s likely due to the fact the WIP takes place in the 19th c.  Victorians surely rolled their eyes, too.  But I associate the gesture with modern day teenagers.  So it’s just not allowed.  Ever.

Moving on-

When my characters are not obsessing with their organ of sight- they are sitting. Or in the process of sitting down.  Or standing up.   Or leaning back in their chair.   Or…

And then, of course, while sitting, they are staring at something….Or glancing… or….

So, I suffer the sin of repetition.

What is your weakness?

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Published in: on October 25, 2008 at 7:22 am  Comments (15)  
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Writing: Sinful Adverbs

In recent years, adverbs (words used to modify verbs) have fallen into great disfavor.  Adverb opponents insist they indicate weak writing.  Go to any writing forum critique board and you’ll see any and all adverbs swatted away like mosquitoes.

I’m going to be heretical and declare,  “There’s not a darn thing wrong with adverbs.”

If adverbs in themselves indicate weak writing than many of our most critically acclaimed and beloved authors including Dickens, the Bronte Sisters, Wilkie Collins, Thomas Hardy, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Melville, Steinbeck, and Austen sure fooled a lot of people.

It is the overuse of them that indicates weak writing.

It often takes a writer a long time to learn less is more.  Precision is key.

A sure-sign of an amateur writer are pages cluttered with adverbs.   Uncertain of their writing ability,  they fear they must spell out everything.   None of their characters simply speak, stand, walk, cry, or laugh.

“He ran quickly”

“She screamed loudly”

“She whispered softly”

“John noticeably cringed as the woman on stage sang horribly.”

Avoid adverbs that are redundant and clutter the sentence at all costs.

Imagine a little girl receiving a toy doll.   She smiles.  That is it. You would not write, “She smiled, happily.”  The fact she smiled already showed she was happy.

So when is it okay to use adverbs?

Here is a quote from John Gardner: “Wilson rocks slowly and conscientiously—a startling word that makes the scene spring to life (adverbs are either the dullest tools or the sharpest in the novelist’s toolbox).”

And here is an example from Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White : “I wound my way down slowly over the Heath, enjoying the divine stillness of the scene, and admiring the soft alternations of light and shade as they followed each other over the broken ground on every side of me.”

One may argue the word, “slowly” is not necessary.   Yes, the sentence is clear without it.  However, it also does not clutter the sentence.   Rather than being redundant, it adds a certain nuance.   So in this example, the choice of whether or not to use, “slowly” is a stylistic one.

Think of adverbs as spice.   Carefully placed they add a certain tone and color.   Too much and they overtake the main flavor of the dish.

Writing: Those Horrid Exclamation Points

For my next few posts, I’ve decided to focus on certain “writing rules” which are circulating around writing forums causing waves of panic.

These include:

No exclamation points!

No adverbs

No saidisms

Naturally, my take on these is just that.  My own.   There are many writers who may happily disagree with me.

Okay,  today let’s look at those horrid exclamation points.

There was a time that novels overflowed with them.   You’ll find an abundance in classic literature of the 19th. c.   But they later reached their zenith in pulp novels.

Here are a few made-up examples:

1.  He entered the room.  It was empty!  The killer had escaped out the window!

2.  She opened her mouth in utter horror!  She tried to scream but no sound would come out!  She was paralyzed with fear.  The man had a gun!

3.  “Oh, Maria!  You are so beautiful!”

Is it any wonder that a new movement came in declaring the exclamation point over-the-top and childish?  Writers were urged not to use them.

Now, many writers are afraid to ever use an exclamation point.   Let’s diminish their fears.

True, exclamation points are hardly ever necessary in prose.  Avoid them there unless you want to remind readers of the ’60s Batman show.

However, let’s look at dialogue.  If a character is stuck in a burning building,  “Help!”  looks a lot more fitting than, “Help.”

Used very sparingly and in the right places- exclamation points are not the horrid punctuation marks they’ve been made out to be.  (perhaps not even in the rare prose)

Published in: on October 21, 2008 at 12:13 pm  Comments (11)  
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