The proverbial adverbial
I nearly didn’t get to blog today, because I’ve been wrestling with one of those weird little paradoxes that strike a writer from time to time – to whit, the adverb.
We are counselled, no exhorted, to remove this item from our writing. ‘Don’t do it,’ we’re told. Stephen King says ‘The road to Hell is paved with adverbs’ and yet …
Why does this convention exist if it’s not useful?
Today I discovered the answer.
It is useful, it’s sometimes valuable, and it’s essential to those writing fiction. But not stories. The place you cannot do without your actual adverb is in your play, specifically, your radio play.
For a play to work, the writer has to indicate to producor and actor what the tone of the dialogue should be – without that they must guess, and if they alter lines (often for good reason) the whole weight of the play can be tipped in the wrong direction if sensible adverbial instruction has been omitted.
As an example, I have a character who says I loathe Mozart. In fact he says, ‘I loathe Mozart’, which gives some idea of his state of mind, but when the directions say –
Henry: (drunkenly) I loathe Mozart.
A complete picture emerges. Henry is drunk, he may be talking complete bollocks, his emphasis is probably the result of having drink taken, not of a particularly strong prejudice because we all know that certain words, when we’re drunk, can only be said with portentous gravitas and loathe is one such word. So in fact, Henry is an unreliable narrator at this point, and we understand all that through the skill of the actor and through the use of a single adverb.
But, you see, like most writers, I’ve trained myself to take the damned adverb out. So I spent all day flinching as I worked through the play I shall be work-shopping at the weekend, putting the hell-based paving back in. And that is why I nearly didn’t blog today, she typed wearily.
Shameless27th November 2007
Interesting point, K! I have battled with this thing about the adverb ever since hearing this in a creative writing class (let’s not even talk about the adjective), because I think it’s gone a bit too far the other way now. I really notice now text that has been “de-adverbised” or “de-adjectivised”. It shouldn’t be so obvious. People are sticking to that rule far too closely now. It actually can be annoying when the writer has obviously tried too hard to find another way to get the message across, when a simple adverb/adjective would’ve been fine. I think those poor little bits of grammar can still be useful. They have had very bad press! 🙂 I too have written a couple of plays … and the adverbs are EVERYWHERE. lol