Cutting “ly” Adverbs and Enhancing Scenes
Good morning, proactive, hands-on self-editors! Are you ready for your next task?
In EDITING 101: 03 ‘THAT’s the Problem in Revising’, we talked about cutting out individual words and decreasing word count. I told you then we’d talk further about more cutting, but in a way which would increase your word count. That’s what will happen when you cut out “ly” adverbs.
First off, why are “ly” adverbs so horrible? They’re not. Yes, you heard me right—they’re a perfectly legitimate part of English and their appropriate use is not prohibited. Let me state it another way:
It’s ok to use “ly” adverbs!
“I think she’s really gone off the deep end this time, Chris. Honestly, first she tells us to cut out these things, and then she tells us it’s ok to use them! I think you’d better get another editor to write this series…”
No, no, no. Let me finish.
The reason writers are told to eliminate as many “ly” adverbs as possible—note: I did not say all!—is because they can be overused by writers. Especially newer writers who are still learning the craft of writing and sometimes take the easy way out. Using an “ly” adverb can sometimes be “the easy way out.” For example:
Mark walked tiredly to his car.
Nothing wrong with that, is there? Concise, understandable… But easy. Too easy. It’s flat and boring. How does this sound in comparison.
Mark crossed the parking lot to his car, his knuckles seeming to drag on the pavement in his exhaustion.
We’ve added thirteen words to the action, taking out the “ly” adverb and enhancing the scene. It’s not too flowery or overly wordy. But it gives the reader a lot more information. In the first sentence, was he walking along a street? In a parking garage? Across a field? In the second, we see he’s in a parking lot. In the first, he’s tired. Ok, we understand. But in the second, we see the depth of his tiredness. That’s the key to enhancing a scene—depth.
In EDITING 101: 06, ‘He Said / She Said: Dialogue Tags,’ we talked about using dialogue tags such as “shouted,” “muttered,” and “roared,” and how expanding a scene can give the reader a better understanding of what’s going on without relying on the easy way out. This is the same thing.
Expanding scenes will add to your word count, but you can then trim the word count in other, subtle ways—such as removing the individual words noted in Article 03.
If anybody’s up for an exercise, why not choose one of these easy-way-out sentences and offer a rewrite?
She ran quickly to keep up with him.
Rover sniffed excitedly, hot on the trail.
The murderer crept along silently.
It snowed heavily at first.
When I write these articles, after I spell check them, I check for “ly” adverbs and excessive “that”s. So I follow my own advice!
Next week we’ll discuss ‘What Happens When You Die?’ (a practical, necessary discussion about your writing, books, accounts, etc).
This series is not meant to be (nor will it be) simple static information.
I’ll be here for each post to answer questions, offer suggestions as necessary, and interact with you.
If there’s something you specifically want (or need!) to see addressed in terms of self-editing, please let me know in the comments under this, or any of the articles of the series.