Thursday, August 7, 2008


Ad Nauseam – adv. Meaning to an extreme of annoying distraction. Anything in one’s story or novel that becomes an annoying distraction is a liability and will keep a manuscript from being read.

Adverbial-ly speaking, adverbial spillage becomes particularly bad when every line of dialogue is tagged or ascribed via an LY delivery as in she said sweetly, hotly, lilthly,
longingly, helplessly, pitiably, ad nauseamly. Actually all adverbs and adjectives qualify the statement along with pure qualifiers like very, seemed, many, often, some, and all of these words work to destroy and not heighten the effect of a strong sentence, especially if overdone. It is the equivalent of cooking with way too many spices at hand until the dish becomes the spice and the meat and potato is lost in the gravy.

As my favorite author of all time, Mark Twain, said, "When in doubt, strike it out" he was referring to such words and phrases as "The excruciatingly dark cemetery lay quietly still, nothing truly moving until the very thick veil seemed to be finally lifting, perhaps maybe, but who could possibly really tell about fog that unknowingly responds to the fickle whims of the strongly moving tides and the hungry, hungry winds that move like the caterpillar of time?”

Such proliferation of adjectives and adverbs and qualifiers kills any possibility of a forward moving dynamo of storyline for sure. Should have read: The dark cemetery remained still, nothing moving, not even the fog that'd settled atop it like a veil.

I am glad we can all agree on Mark Twain, who was a genius when it came to moving people via the power of his words; a genius when it came to language, and who could alter his voice to suit his purpose so splendidLY well. The thing of it is in a novel when characters speak, within the friendly confines of the quotation marks, anything goes. Anything that can be spoken, grammatical or not, is fair game, so yeah, who and whom become pointless, and everyone speaks volumes in Passive Voice while "in voice" but typically, unless your narrator is set up as a folksy Huckleberry, your narrative voice has to be a great deal more concerned with NOT being an “LY” freak, be it adverb or adding to the subjective or the objective (ad-jective), and heaven help the narrator who falls into pages upon pages of textbook-sounding passive constructions that rely on two words— There was. Or He was. Or She Was, and then unloading an information dump about character or place. In dramatic writing you don't want to stop the action just to describe a person, place, or thing— to unload on the reader. However, if you have a blowhard character given to unloading like the mailman in the TV series Cheers, go for it, but do so within the quotation marks.

Twain, who identified what, 24 dialects in Missouri alone, was, you might say is an early linguist, and a man who's cautions and suggestions I think I'm going to respect. Another who eschewed flowery adverbs and adjectives almost too much was Papa Hemmingway in my estimation. A smattering of a few more LY words might have helped in that regard, perhaps, maybe, just my opinion.

Bottom line, one just has to be aware of every nuance of every word. Often people use the word EVEN for instance thinking it somehow elevates or helps a sentence, but like VERY it fails again and again. “He even thought it was a good idea” – when “He thought it was a good idea” does the trick. And for heaven’s sake, take out all the Upsy and Downsy in your sentences as absolutely unnecessary. He sat down? He sat. He stood up. He stood. The worst offender: He backed up into the garage. Okay, the worst worst offender is: He blinked his eyes. Or He shrugged his shoulders. Or His eyes winked at her.

Until next time Happy Writing, and by the by, next Friday our guests here on ACME will be the Men of Mysery – Marcus Sakey on the 13th, and J.A. Konrath on the 15th. We’re honored to have these outstanding authors of mystery and intrigue with us at ACME.

Rob Walker
aka The Knife,
Book Autopsies Done Here

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