CRAFT OF LITERARY 1.1: Featuring Saul Lemerond – “Adverbs and Adjectives in Writing”
“He uses too many adverbs,” is one of my workshop friend’s common complaints.
He goes through workshop manuscripts crossing out every adverb he sees. “No one gazes ‘longingly’” he says, “and no one is ‘very’ anything,” and by this he means people in stories shouldn’t be ‘very good’ or ‘very fast’ or ‘very important’, and even when I point out the last example in his list is an adjective, and not an adverb, he insists his point stands. Adverbs are the lazy writer’s tool, and adjectives are almost as bad.
“Extremely tall,” he says, is not a useful descriptive because ‘extremely’ doesn’t give the reader a cogent sense of what’s being described. “Very” is worse because it’s even less specific. No one knows what amount of time ‘very long’ is, but if a savvy writer were to type, “it reminded her of when she was in the waiting room during her father’s double bypass,” then this would be the sort of description readers could really grasp.
I’ve wanted to point out to my friend (who is a very good writer) that the problem he sees in workshop can’t be reduced to some simple rule. Writing is highly idiosyncratic, and writers need to use what they can to create whatever effect they need.
In the first two pages of The Sun Also Rises, Hemingway uses the word ‘very’ twice. He does it ironically, but he does it, and Nabokov almost never fails to use adjectives in his character description, which leads me to believe rules are for suckers. This post is three hundred words and contains: highly, common, lazy, cogent, really, simple, savvy, and very and many of them are absolutely necessary for conveying meaning. Sometimes writing is hard and sometimes it’s very hard, but no rule is going to be perfect.
ABOUT SAUL:Saul Lemerond’s originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin. He’s currently working on a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. His book Kayfabe and Other Stories is available on Amazon. He’s happy he’s finally moved south because his hands get really cold in the winter.
You’ve heard of a found poem, but what about a found poet? Meet Cubs the poet and his partner in crime who set up their meal trays, typewriters, and index cards in urban areas writing poems. In New Orleans, you’re never short on music or culture or booze or gumbo, but by happenstance on this day, we found word-artists at play, busy crafting metaphors at their tiny desks before then taping their finished products to the street posts, each poem for sale for $10. If you tell Cubs you’re a poet, he’ll insist you have a seat in his chair and type out a poem. He’ll feed you cashews and tell you about his dreams to take his street poem venture across the far seas. If you buy one of Cub’s poems, which have each been carefully typed on his vintage typewriter, he’ll highlight in yellow his favorite lines for you before signing his name (in the form of a cub-foot symbol) along with the date at the bottom of the poem. Thank you, Cubs and company, for bringing poems into the streets for the world to bump into. ~Christie
Craft of Literary features flash essays on craft, CW pedagogy, and publishing by emerging and established writers. For more information, click here.