Posts Tagged ‘writing’


What adverb am I deleting?

March 7, 2016

Here, with a lot of help from Stephen King via Delancey Place, is an attack on the adverb.  I read King’s memoir, On Writing, some time ago; this lesson stuck with me and I am happy to share this excerpt.


“The other piece of advice I want to give you before moving on to the next level of the toolbox in this: The adverb is not your friend.
“Adverbs, you will remember … are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. … With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.
“Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me . . . but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?
“Someone out there is now accusing me of being tiresome and anal-retentive. I deny it. I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s — GASP!! — too late.
“I can be a good sport about adverbs, though. Yes I can. With one exception: dialogue attribution. I insist that you use the adverb in dialogue attribution only in the rarest and most special of occasions . . . and not even then, if you can avoid it. Just to make sure we all know what we’re talking about, examine these three sentences:
“Put it down!” she shouted.
“Give it back,” he pleaded, “it’s mine.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said.
“In these sentences, shouted, pleaded, and said are verbs of dialogue attribution. Now look at these dubious revisions:
“Put it down!” she shouted menacingly.
“Give it back,” he pleaded abjectly, “it’s mine.”
“Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said contemp­tuously.

“The three latter s

sentences are all weaker than the three former ones, and most readers will see why immediately. “Don’t be such a fool, Jekyll,” Utterson said contemptu­ously is the best of the lot; it is only a cliche, while the other two are actively ludicrous. Such dialogue attributions are sometimes known as ‘Swifties,’ after Tom Swift, the brave inventor-hero in a series of boys’ adventure novels written by Victor Appleton II. Appleton was fond of such sentences as “Do your worst!” Tom cried bravely and “My father helped with the equations,” Tom said modestly. When I was a teenager there was a party-game based on one’s ability to create witty (or half-witty) Swifties. “You got a nice butt, lady,” he said cheekily is one I remember; another is “I’m the plumber,” he said, with a flush. (In this case the mod­ifier is an adverbial phrase.) …
“Some writers try to evade the no-adverb rule by shooting the attribution verb full of steroids. The result is familiar to any reader of pulp fiction or paperback originals:
“Put down the gun, Utterson!” Jekyll grated.
“Never stop kissing me!” Shayna gasped.
“You damned tease!” Bill jerked out.
“Don’t do these things. Please oh please. The best form of dialogue attribution is said, as in he said, she said, Bill said, Monica said.”

What am I writing?

January 11, 2016


The Newbery, the Caldecott, the King awards have all been announced for this year, but what about the Bulwer-Lytton Award?  This award, created in 1982 by San Jose University, recognizes the world’s worst sentence.  This award was inspired by Victorian author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, who penned the infamous, “it was a dark and stormy night.”   In full:

It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents — except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.” — Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, Paul Clifford (1830)

More information including writing contest rules, winners, more wretched writing, and a quiz I particularly liked where you have to determine if a passage was written by Dickens or Bulwer-Lytton, can be found at Bulwer-Lytton website.


How’s my writing?

October 11, 2014

elmore leonard

October 11, 1925 – August 20, 2013

Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules to Good Writing

Here is the short version:
  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said” … he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6.  Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

You can read the full NYT article here.



What was I saying?

July 21, 2013

Someone cut you off in traffic?  Someone sit in front of you in the theater when there are only three million other empty seats they could have chosen?  Are you still using the same stale and recycled insults to handle these situations?  Never fear . . .

Thanks to Cappy Writes for this handy guide.  Follow the instructions and you can insult the gleeking rump-fed pignut and sound erudite at the same time:

shakespearean insult kit


About what am I being pedantic?

May 30, 2013

I have been blogging for a while and have found many interesting people sharing their thoughts and their knowledge online.  I enjoy that a lot.  I also enjoy the process of composing my own posts and am delighted when they seem to touch another person.

Lately I have given some thought to the whole blogging process and have come up with the following – The Five Stages of Blogging.  This is offered with much gratitude to the classic developmental psychologists whose influence you will recognize in these descriptions.

Five Stages of Blogging


Infancy – the exploratory phase

  • What is a blog and who are these people?
  • Do I have anything to say?
  • Will anyone read this?
  • Look at what people are writing – I can certainly do this – and better, too!


Launch phase-gaining in dependence

  • Choosing a blogging platform
  • Choosing a picture and avatar
  • Crafting my about page


Angst and inadequacy

  • I spent all this time designing my page why isn’t anyone reading me?
  • Am I not interesting?
  • Could my blog be more attractive?
  • Maybe I would attract more readers if I were more sassy, sexy, vulnerable, assertive, . . . ?


Elation, validation and obsession

  • I have followers!
  • From Malaysia!
  • I received a blog award!
  • I’m thinking I can quit my job and make money at this


 Self-actualization – reality is re-established

If you have read this far, please give yourself the following blog award and know that you are my favorite reader.

favorite reader award


What am I Sappy Cat Blogging about now?

May 25, 2012

Great Literature of Cats 101 from the folks over at BuzzFeed.