Sunday, March 30th, 2014

I’ve recently returned from a bar having finished H.G. Wells’s science fiction classic The War of the Worlds. This did not disappoint! What it possessed in outdated technology, it captured in basic human nature. Even more appreciative was I at the fact it didn’t have Tom Cruise as the main protagonist. Gone are the days of the plucky naval pilot. They will be missed.

There have been prior attempts to bring the story into then modern forms of media, such as Orson Welles’s 1938 radio broadcast and the 1953 film directed by Byron Haskin. I’ve only watched pieces of the Haskin film. So, I don’t feel fit to provide a worthwhile evaluation of it. Orson is rather maniacal in his work, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt and suggest his enthusiasm here is due to fandom, not his sizable ego.

For all serendipity’s worth, it also fit neatly into a little dilemma I had over the weekend. Apparently there has been a demand for writers to minimize the use of adverbs in their writing. The premise is to “show” the reader the story rather than “telling” them outright.  This is all presented as if it were a piece of toilet paper stuck to the heel of my boot. Being a novice writer I will readily admit I’ve used such devices in my work.

At first, I felt incredulous over the idea critics would pan material simply for the use of some innocent part of speech. It seemed quite petty, and the rule-makers of language are often trying to find ways to look down upon the common users. They are the hipsters of the literary world. I’d like to corral them with the same people who get bent out of shape over Comic Sans.

After I calmed down, I tried the old “constructive criticism” approach and took everything in with an open mind. “Sure,” I thought, “if people feel they see a more vivid picture without them, I suppose it’s worth the energy.” I carried this thought on through most of the past two days. As a writer, you are trying to communicate to an audience. The better the communicative techniques, the more well-received it will be.

This leads me to Wells. As I have discovered, The War of the Worlds has plenty of adverbs. I’m almost certain he could have re-written a “better” sentence several times. If this book was so besotted with criminal text, how could it have lasted this long? Could it be that if a story is compelling enough, the number of times a writer adds an “-ly” word to modify a verb or adjective doesn’t matter? Oh yeah.

My current position is this: don’t sacrifice your work for the sake of style issues. If you can make a better sentence, then by all means do but don’t get hung up over it. Are we to tell the H.G. Wells of the world their story isn’t good enough because there are too many adverbs? I don’t think so.

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7 thoughts on “Sunday, March 30th, 2014

  1. authormbeyer says:

    Here is my belief (though not quite worth two whole cents); adverbs added to a verb are like the feathers on an arrow. They guide Robin’s shot to the center of the bulls-eye… even, dare I say it? Into the center of the arrow before it that found the center of the bulls-eye. Adverbs add a touch of where, how, when, and why. The guide the image to the very point I’m trying to make about stabilizing and aiming true with the verb. I know I write purple paisley prose so convoluted and crabbed that the idea can be lost in the swirl… So don’t treat my advice as the advice of a master. It’s just the drivel that comes out of the mouth of the fool. But sometimes that drivel dribbles out… wisely.

  2. kerbey says:

    I would never have even thought to add or minimize adverbs in my writing. What a weird thought. The first thing I do is get rid of all the “justs.” Too many justs. But adverbs are they to convey purpose. Is he killing you softly with his song? Is he killing you roughly? Quickly?

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