5 weak words to whack from your writing
Linda Caroll
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Of course, these rules aren’t hard and fast, right? Yes, if you’re writing a column for a newspaper, sure. If you’re a beginner, yes, good advice. But every word listed here can be, and are, useful literary devices when used deliberately, rather than out of a lack of care (which I know is the main premise of your piece here, Linda :) So yes, I agree! BUT…as to hard and fast writing rules…

I remember reading Stephen King’s book “On Writing,” and laughing. Man, that guy does NOT like adverbs. Then I went to a writing workshop and the two guys teaching, both genre, mid-list writers, were talking about the evils of adverbs. The called them “lazy writing.” They said that if you need to use an adverb, you are using the wrong verb. Well, I can see that when it comes to, say, “very,” or the word “run,” (“he ran swiftly from the room,” rather than “he bolted out of the room,”) but what about other words?

I was amused. After reading the critically acclaimed (ah, “critically”…an adverb. Hm. What is a verb that expresses the idea of “acclaimed” specifically by critics? Because simply writing “acclaimed” doesn’t tell from where or by whom the book received the acclaim. So the adverb is literally modifying the verb to create the context in which the book was hailed a “masterpiece”) book, Infinite Jest, by David Foster Wallace, I wondered if Steve King would have a aneurysm if he read the 1,079-page tome. Wallace not only scatters adverbs throughout the book willy-nilly, he actually created new ways to adverbalize words that had never been done before.

So these two writers at the conference spoke of the evils of adverbs, right out of King’s playbook, and I asked them if they could please assist me in finding the proper verb I needed. I asked them to find me the one-word verb that captured the phrase “passionately kissed.” The best they could come up with was, “He ate at her mouth with passion and hunger.” He “ate”? Ouch. Of course, one could write, “Their mouths met in a frenzy of passion, their faces flushed with heat as they…” BUT…the anti-adverb treatise came right on the heels of their other writing rule: economic word-use. Why say it in ten words when you can say it in four?

This is a great article, Linda, thank you. :) While your rules here are, for the most part, right on the money in many instances, there are times when use of these words are deliberate and purposeful. I know the thrust of the article is to curb lazy writing, and I totally agree and get that :) I’m just having a little fun. I wrote a poem recently, and I use the word “very,” LITERALLY 11 times in a row. Just so you know, it’s here.

So while beginning writers should pay attention to Linda’s article and advice — she is spot-on correct — there are times when, literally, you very well ought to really think about the fact that there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to the use of certain words at any given time. Of course, maybe I’m just being tongue-in-cheek; a contrarian. Perhaps I should not comment at all. But then…I think Linda knows I enjoy canoodling in her comments, and she knows how much I like and respect her articles, her writing and her skill. At least, I hope she does, because I do. Literally. :)