1. Welcome to the Fantasy Writing Forums. Register Now to join us.

Words That You Avoid

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Laurence, Aug 16, 2018.

  1. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

    1,962
    1,114
    163
    Much of -ly adverb use will depend on TA. The younger the audience, the more tolerable they’ll be. The more genre, the more tolerable. If you want my daughter to read the book, you can pile them on. If you want me to read the book, kill them. Not all of them, mind you. Just most. To me, adverbs are often softening modifiers, not intensifiers. They’re vague.

    Nimue thinks every one adds to the sentence, I disagree. “Accidentally” is the only one I would consider leaving, outside dialogue, but I doubt I would. “Accidentally” means something specific and valuable. The others? Not so much.

    Dialogue is free game. And again the caveat, it works for this fan fic.

    For the most part, the only useful bit for -ly words (IMO) is when a point needs made but that point isn’t important enough to spend more words on. Which is most useful in younger TAs. They are quickie work. In Ladybug/Cat Noir fan fic, sure, what the hell. You want major lit prizes, not so much.
     
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  2. Demesnedenoir

    Demesnedenoir Auror

    1,962
    1,114
    163
    Directionals... here’s the thing. Directionals are fine! If you use them within reason. I have critiqued short pieces of writing which will use 10 directionals in 100 words, and most of them are just pointless. You’ve got a couple here and there? Good. Many times, the use of directionals will also point to a lack of descriptive prowess. But again, TA matters here too.

    That... I once critiqued a piece where the word constituted a full on 7% of the words they used. The writer had no idea. Those thats sounded right, and they weren’t wrong, but over half were flat out a waste of space. Cleaning those out tightened the prose with minimal effort.
     
  3. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    2,655
    1,916
    163
    Lol! You can write medieval fantasy without sounding hokey.

    I’m not saying lose all verbs. We need verbs. But if you are going to pair a verb with a following description, why do you need both? Cut the verb. Keep the description. If you are describing stars, the reader knows you are looking at the sky. If you are describing a cushion, the reader knows you sat. You don’t need to say “I plopped onto the cushion. It was soft and luxurious.” You can simply say “The cushion felt amazing under my tired legs.” Then you have 8 words, instead of 10, and they mean a lot more than “I plopped” as far as characterization, and setting.

    I’m saying, in those circumstances keep the description, lose the verb. Cut two sentences into one more powerful one.
     
  4. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

    1,596
    1,010
    163
    The example was Devor's, not mine - not sure if that's clear.

    Intensifying may not be the right word - modifying, certainly. Adding detail when there's no verb that brings it, and it's not worth spending a phrase on. I can add an example from my own writing (short story, somewhat presentable but unedited so this is the level of adverbiage coming out of my drafting - 28 ly words out of 4,463, some of those in dialogue):

    If you can think of a substitute for that "said dully" that conveys the same, I'd be genuinely interested in knowing it. What goes through your mind when you notice the sin of an adverbial dialogue tag in your own writing - or does it not happen?

    Here, in the interest of fairness, what I think is a bad use of adverbs from the same story:
    Describing something difficult, getting lazy with the writing. Part of this, too, is working to a word count - an adverb only counts as one! Wouldn't mind a rewrite of this one either, lol.
     
  5. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,561
    3,073
    313
    ^^^^ All of this? Yeah, just... no.

    Nimue is great and all, but I believe we're maybe different people?

    If anything, younger audiences require simpler and tighter language than adults, is harder to write, and aren't at all "quickie work.". The idea that anything goes because it's YA is misplaced, and you shouldn't dismiss a genre you're not as familiar with.

    Although I don't really write it any differently just because it's fanfiction for a "younger" TA - I posted it as a sample of my own writing, so maybe you should try and realize when your condescending attitude is more personal than you intend it?

    You're probably right about an adverb being a "softening modifiers" instead of a so-called "intensifier," but there's plenty of room for softening even in an intense sentence, let alone a scene. Keeping your sentences varied is probably the biggest key to writing top level prose.

    I stand by all seven of the adverbs in my example - I think if you think they could be cut, then you're not paying enough attention to the context.

    And I don't know about literary prizes, but I'm fairly sure that YA sells pretty well, and that fanfictions can end up with audiences much larger than that of most ebooks.
     
    TheCrystallineEntity likes this.
  6. Nimue

    Nimue Auror

    1,596
    1,010
    163
    The funny thing is... I'm going to be completely honest with you here, Dem, and I hope this isn't unfair, but it's something that colored my response to this thread. In all of your critiques and advice-giving posts on this forum, I can't remember you ever saying something besides "cut XYZ words out of your writing." That, had, adverbs, directionals. I literally can't recall another insight. You've written, edited, and published a book, and it looks fantastic! You must have a hell of a lot to say! Why is cutting words...it? Do you feel it's that annoying, or do you believe it's that essential, or both...?
     
    Chessie2 likes this.
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,561
    3,073
    313
    Coming up with good examples on the fly can be frustrating.... it's probably besides your point, but to me, both of these two examples are about equal and together look like one weak paragraph. Maybe try.....

    She turned to her large and lofty pink couch, and I plopped onto the cushion before she could even bid me sit, the day's journey weighing on my joints. The cushion was soft and luxurious, and after a few seconds I began to feel guilty for the dirt I must have brought to her couch. But it felt amazing under my tired legs.

    That's probably another bad example. Anyways, this is why I try and post from my fanfic for examples, because it's so much different when the examples come from a real piece of writing. It's like people are arguing from a meta-place that means different things to different people.
     
  8. Tavenor

    Tavenor New Member

    4
    2
    3
    My least favorite word in writing is "clearly."

    Partially, this comes from my day job, where that word is quite frowned upon. If you use it to bolster your own argument, you look like a fool.

    However, in dialogue it can be used to great effect. Here's two examples:

    "Clearly, I won that fight."
    The word clearly illustrates an air of arrogance from the speaker.

    But in narrative: Obi-Wan had gained the high ground. Clearly, he would win the battle.

    "Clearly" adds nothing to that descriptive sentence other than to argue without actually showing a reader why it should be "clear" to them that what you are saying is true. And if you've provided the details as to why what you're saying is true, you don't need to use the word "clearly."

    Clearly, you should all agree with me. :)
     
    Yora and Laurence like this.
  9. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    1,166
    772
    113
    I love you.

    I enjoy using adverbs. Des: come at me bro.
    Jewel angrily tossed the canteen strap over her shoulder.
    Jack whistled mockingly. “Lighten up. It’s only a little teasing."

    EDIT: to add that it's not about the words. It's about the story. Too many writers argue about which words to use and then their stories lack interest and conflict. Is it worth it then?
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2018
  10. Tom

    Tom Istar

    2,710
    1,138
    163
    I don't outright avoid specific words, but I try not to use too many Latin-origin words. They're great for some styles of writing, but I've found that they're jarring in mine, because I go for a colloquial tone that's very physically focused. If it sounds weird saying it aloud in casual conversation, I usually won't use it. (There are exceptions, of course.)
     
    Yora likes this.
  11. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,715
    1,817
    163
    Well now, I feel great guilt for having brought Demesnedenoir into the conversation, considering the backlash.

    But I've found those cautions—directionals, -ly adverbs, and that—to be helpful. There it is.

    This doesn't mean I am in lockstep, or at least not yet.

    I just scanned the first 3500 words of my last NaNo project, the roughest of rough drafts, and I found...

    Two instances of that particular directional use I highlighted in my first comment to this thread—I think? I'm far more on board vis-a-vis those. Even in this rough that I spat out over the first 15 days of November, I only did it maybe twice, depending on whether "back" is a directional, heh:

    • “Yes.” He dutifully glanced back at the book and tapped different lines of numbers with his quill to prove he had.
    • He walked back to his table.

    The first example is included further down, also, because the sentence includes an -ly adverb.

    I didn't catch these in my first scan, because it'd never occurred to me before to search for "back," heh. I was searching for "up" and "down."

    The second of these might be revised to "He returned to his table" or some such, and I think it'd be better revised. But the first one? There's a certain emphasis to the whole of what's being said there, his very conscious show of returning his mind to that book in response to something his mother has said. In any case, I'm a bit "meh" and don't particularly feel any sort of clanging alarm bell in this use.

    Do other instances of "up" or "down" count in the caution? I'm not sure. If I include those, there are many areas I'd probably consider revising. During NaNo, I caught myself repeating my phrasing far too much but kept charging full steam ahead because I was aiming at word counts. So it seems that if I had a stairway or hill, my MC was always going down or up, heh. I also had a couple cases of setting a cup down. These aren't like those instances I previously mentioned, since I don't include "on the table" and such. A character would just set his or her cup down. I'd probably take a look at those during revision, but they don't trouble me much except to the degree that I repeated the phrasing.

    Twenty-one cases of -ly adverb usage. In only the first two scenes.

    While counting, I had to catch myself whenever "only" popped up, because it's sometimes an adjective, heh.

    Obviously, while writing, I didn't care too much about -ly usage. Three of those were in dialogue anyway.

    The only's...I think I was using those for voice:

    • He had been too young to ride with them to war, only just reaching the age when he might have in the last few months.
    • The sudden hint of seriousness seemed so out of place coming from her, he could only think to nod.
    • His own fury had little to do with the fact that the man had shown only the barest display of respect toward him.

    These sentences probably warrant some revision anyway, for other reasons, but I'm not too troubled by my use of "only" here.

    Then there are the cases that probably ring alarm bells:

    • “Yes.” He dutifully glanced back at the book and tapped different lines of numbers with his quill to prove he had.
    • He widened his eyes a little too exaggeratedly and nodded slightly before remembering his own task.
    • The man caught sight of him and his escort but watched passively, waiting for them to draw near.
    Heh. Especially those first two. But I like dutifully and exaggeratedly. Let me rephrase. I like them now. I suspect they might be little darlings. Incidentally, my POV narration verges on omniscient, is rather distant, and I've been thinking of rewriting the whole thing as first person. All this is just to say that the whole POV approach in this rough is....very rough, and I knew it at the time of writing. My best characterization of the POV would be that it's probably omniscient but with a degree of ventriloquizing that verges on intimate third when my focus is on whichever main character is before the camera; but that's being nice to myself.

    Finally, there are cases that probably would raise hackles for some in these parts:

    • Initially, he threw himself into his lessons, but his lack of improvement bored the sergeant—or so it seemed.
    • Actually, he did not want to go chasing after the understeward, but he had set his mind.
    • Usually, they spent their time beyond the walls exploring the cliffs that overlooked the bay; sometimes, the king’s wood south of the city.
    These almost certainly would be cut. I knew at the time or a bare second or two afterward that "I probably shouldn't have done that," but I did it anyway. Why did I use these? Look at the sentence immediately above this list. Finally,.... I do that sort of thing all the time. It's my "voice" here when I comment on MS, and it's my voice when I speak, often enough. I think my fumbled, fumbling narrative voice in that rough draft led to these. My better angel knows I'd need to cut them later.

    X cases of "that." The last thing I checked in those 3500 words, these were so numerous that I gave up counting. They weren't altogether bad, but after searching through all the -ly words, I was growing bored with the process, heh. Some of the sentences with "that" would need revision, but probably not all. Again, I suspect that my facile approach to POV style in this rough resulted in many of those thats.

    TL;dr: Had I not frequently encountered the "don't do" or "cut, cut, cut!" advice, I probably would never a) know to look at these things, and b) give much thought to the possibility of revising and improving roughs with an eye on those things. Maybe this is due to the fact that my personality includes the habit of never following advice blindly. Ever. This makes me an unpleasant person to be around for those who expect me to happily let them dictate my mind's approach to reality, heh. So maybe I'm immune to the potential bad effects of "cut, cut, cut!" but am simultaneously more likely to benefit from my reaction to that sort of advice, since I can take it or leave it depending on my ultimate orientation toward it. :sneaky: Have I actually benefited, though? TBD.

    As a side note, I'd also question whether the describing of approaches, our own theories about our individual approaches, is always well-expressed. Sometimes the doing is easier than the describing of the doing, I mean. :ROFLMAO: We abridge, summarize, etc., and sometimes I think we don't quite hit the mark, and this can leave many gaps and many opportunities for disagreement. Sometimes disagreement is no doubt warranted; but sometimes maybe disagreement gets in the way of understanding. My two cents.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2018
    Laurence and Heliotrope like this.
  12. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    1,166
    772
    113
    But is it worth it? Really, is it?? At the end of the day when you've hacked and slashed all the improper -ly words, that, this, then, whatever, do you have a compelling story? Do you have interesting characters? Do you have an immersive setting and a captivating hook? Do you have a story that people want to read? Do you have a voice readers will enjoy?
     
    Svrtnsse likes this.
  13. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,715
    1,817
    163
    I look at this question by considering two very different processes.

    The writing of the rough/story.

    The editing, finalizing part.

    If you've already got the story down, whether first rough or third pass, and you like it, that's great! In this case, I'd give advice as absolute as "cut, cut, cut," and it'd be this: Don't make any revisions following that cut! advice if these revisions would hurt or destroy what you've already accomplished. Don't destroy the story in attempting to "make it better" according to the advice given by others.

    But the editing, finalizing process can include a look at these things without automatically destroying the story. Do you take this time? This will depend on each author. Generally, I'd say take the time. Maybe, just maybe, the telling of the story can be improved. If only a smidgen. If only in a few places in the prose. But every author has her own goals; and if the time and effort might be too much, and the story is already where you want it, then do whatever you feel is best for your own particular goals, even if that means not bothering to look at these things..
     
  14. I never use swear words.
    "Gotten" has never felt like a real word to me, so I avoid that.
     
    Yora likes this.
  15. Chessie2

    Chessie2 Staff Article Team

    1,166
    772
    113
    FifthViewFifthView: I agree with your answer. Conversations like this end up being either or when there is everything else in between to discuss. When I edit, I take out unnecessary words the same way I take out other things that are out of place. I don't just go in there and start slashing words because someone sometime said "Don't use adverbs!". I don't think that's what you're saying either. Lately, I've been on this vintage romance novel kick. Books that are fabulously written use every tool in the box. Limiting ourselves as writers and creators also limits our work.
     
  16. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    2,655
    1,916
    163
    This is true. I think we are all saying this. I think we have had these discussion enough times to know that none of us are ever talking in absolutes. We are giving options. We are saying "But maybe think about..." Or, "Maybe try this...." Or, "Hey friend, here is a new tool for your toolbox."

    Saying "I tend to avoid adverbs in my writing because I, personally find it makes my writing stronger." Is not an absolute. It is giving people another option. It is saying "Hey, have you thought about this? It might be something to consider."
     
  17. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    7,561
    3,073
    313
    So of these adverbs, I would say that "dutifully glanced" doesn't work for me, "exaggeratedly" is a weird word to read, and "passively" is already implied. Initially, Actually, and Usually call attention to themselves in kind of a bad way. And the top and bottom "only" sentences have problems that might or might not drop the word in question. He "nodded slightly" is the only adverb here that kind of works for me, but not in a way that's important - I would probably have said something like "He offered a slight nod" or "He nodded a little," but the adverb as is would also be fine.

    But for me, looking at these sentences, I would consider the adverbs a red herring. It's a distraction. Let's look at just one sentence:

    “Yes.” He dutifully glanced back at the book and tapped different lines of numbers with his quill to prove he had.

    Now for a cut:

    "Yes." He tapped his quill against different lines of numbers in the book to prove he had.

    ^
    But this to me still isn't great.

    "Yes." He tapped his quill against the book, pointing to some of the more relevant numbers.

    The thing here is, pointing at numbers doesn't prove that he had done anything. No matter how it's restructured the sentence here is always going to suffer because it's missing specificity. ...pointing to the numbers he had previously marked or ...pointing to the larger numbers that showed where the most money had been spent.

    Right or wrong, focusing on the adverb just doesn't get you very far.
     
  18. Heliotrope

    Heliotrope Staff Article Team

    2,655
    1,916
    163
    Ahhhhhhhh! Devor! You hit on EXACTLY what I was trying to say earlier. It is not simply the adverb (or verb) that is the problem. The adverb (or verb), in many cases, is a symptom of a bigger problem. If you have a lot of adverbs (or verbs) in the text it does not mean they need to simply be cut. It means you should probably look at why you thought you needed them in the first place, and how you could change the entire sentence to make it deeper. To make your meaning clearer.
     
  19. FifthView

    FifthView Istar

    2,715
    1,817
    163
    As I said, Devor. Little darlings. But the kinds of edits you made are the sorts of things I'd consider in later passes.

    This one thing, though. That's kind of the point in the context of that passage. The MC is a teen, and he's (heh, exaggeratedly) putting on a show for his mother. So it's a little ridiculous in the way teens can be ridiculously OTT. He doesn't actually prove anything, but he isn't self-aware enough to know this. [Edit: Also, his mother's attention isn't on him, so the sound cue is his attempt to "prove" to her that he's reexamining his numbers. Since, dang it, she's hardly paying attention to him.]

    Nonetheless, those sorts of edits are precisely why doing a search of -ly and the other things is important, and I agree with you on those.

    A huge portion of my problem in this first draft is my squishy narrative voice, and I think that if I improved that generally, the direction I'd end up taking in future edits would be more solid.
     
    Heliotrope likes this.
  20. Giovanni

    Giovanni Acolyte

    5
    1
    3
    Personally I try my best to avoid the word however; I do so because of how often I use it. If I were to write without checking my paragraphs every couple of minutes That word would infect the majority of sentence starters.
     
Loading...

Share This Page