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Who says no adverbs?

Steven King for one. He is passionate about it but even he admits to giving in sometimes. I understand the logic and remove unnecessary adverbs even changing the structure of a sentence. A stronger verb is the answer and I have great satisfaction finding the that verb.

But who determines adverbs are ‘bad’? How has it come about that adverbs are the bad guys? Why are school children still taught about adverbs if they are no longer necessary?

It’s a convention, fashion, a passing fad which may last a decade or a millennia. As a writer who aims to be published, I have to follow the new order. So is it the publishing industry that drives the change?

"Marley's Ghost", Original illustration by John Leech from A Christmas Carol
“Marley’s Ghost”, Original illustration by John Leech from A Christmas Carol

Marley was dead: to begin with.  There is no doubt whatever about that.  The register of his burial was signed by the clergyman, the clerk, the undertaker, and the chief mourner.  Scrooge signed it: and Scrooge’s name was good upon ‘Change, for anything he chose to put his hand to.  Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Mind!  I don’t mean to say that I know, of my own knowledge, what there is particularly dead about a door-nail.  I might have been inclined, myself, to regard a coffin-nail as the deadest piece of ironmongery in the trade.  But the wisdom of our ancestors is in the simile; and my unhallowed hands shall not disturb it, or the Country’s done for.  You will therefore permit me to repeat, emphatically, that Marley was as dead as a door-nail.

Scrooge knew he was dead?  Of course he did. How could it be otherwise?  Scrooge and he were partners for I don’t know how many years.  Scrooge was his sole executor, his sole administrator, his sole assign, his sole residuary legatee, his sole friend and sole mourner.  And even Scrooge was not so dreadfully cut up by the sad event, but that he was an excellent man of business on the very day of the funeral, and solemnised it with an undoubted bargain.

The mention of Marley’s funeral brings me back to the point I started from.  There is no doubt that Marley was dead.  This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of the story I am going to relate.  If we were not perfectly convinced that Hamlet’s Father died before the play began, there would be nothing more remarkable in his taking a stroll at night, in an easterly wind, upon his own ramparts, than there would be in any other middle-aged gentleman rashly turning out after dark in a breezy spot — say Saint Paul’s Churchyard for instance — literally to astonish his son’s weak mind.

I am reading A Christmas Carol in Prose with my Klassic Book Klub and Dickens does not eschew adverbs or cliches or prepositions at the end of the sentence. Go Dickens! Since the publication of the novella, yes, it is a novella at about 28,547 words, writing styles have changed. The novel is no longer ‘novel’.

While traditional length stories still sell, an upsurge in short fiction has inspired many literary magazines and competitions, and each have their specifications e.g. short story up to 2,000 words, or 1,500 words, or anything from 750 up to 5,000 words; so it behooves submitters to read the guidelines carefully. Lengths of fiction have names like drabble and twabble, or flash. Some call it prose/poem hybrids. A plethora of journals publish only 100-word fiction. Is this the reason adverbs are derogated?

I wonder what the great minimalist, Raymond Carver, would make of it? Carve magazine has no minimum word count up to 10,000 words for short story submissions. Incidentally, it is a great magazine and stories can be read online. For print copies you need to subscribe and pay. It has two contests. Their Premium Edition contest is a maximim 4,000 word count. It is fee based and the deadline is 30th November, if you fancy submitting.

A slew of editing software is around, Grammarly, SmartEdit, Hemingway, ProWritingAid to name a few, and they provide statistics and suggestions to improve your writing. The latter has twenty-six categories in its checklist covering everything from diction, to vague/abstract words, to grammar check, to overused words, cliches/redundancies, and words that shouldn’t end the sentence. (Tell that to Dickens).

It lists the words and phrases. This software also states whether, for example, pronouns used are within an acceptable range. Or it tells the writer the word was or feel or know etc appears 229 times, and to remove 29 occurrences to make it acceptable.

I don’t disagree with the reasoning but I wonder, ‘Who decides the acceptable percentages?’

It is easy or lazy to use the familiar words was, feel or know because I don’t have to search for other verbs to stretch my creativity or restructure the sentence. But when I do take a step further, I have greater satisfaction with the result. But if I cite the word ‘was’ 201 times, will the word percentage police grab me?

Twenty years ago at University, words like really, very, just, definitely, particularly, actually and literally were called weak intensifiers. I still prefer that phrase. I don’t want to weaken my writing.

I am enjoying reading A Christmas Carol and find the adverbs and the cliches refreshing. (I don’t believe I am exceptional, so it might be that they will make a comeback). But I don’t want to write like Dickens.

Steven King’s writing is wonderful. So, I will listen to him.

And write like myself.


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