Monday, March 31, 2014

The DEADLY -LY -Stronger Writing #6

The Deadly –ly

“Ly words almost always catch the author in the act of explaining dialogue – smuggling emotions into speaker attributions that belong in the dialogue itself.” Self Editing for fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King. Pg 51

I doubt there is a writer out there who has not been told to eliminate the -ly words, or at least to limit their use severely. The experts tell us -ly words are the mark of a lazy writer. 

Writing the first draft we use whatever easy word comes to mind to help us get the story on the page. In the editing process, we need to search out those weak verb/adverb structures, the way a cat hunts a mouse, and find more specific verbs. One common place we find them is coupled with said and in other constructions to define emotions.

 - If you use an –ly word to tell us how a character is feeling, use action to show us.

She was angry with Tom.
She glared at Tom, her teeth clenched and her fists bunched at her sides. 

- If you use an -ly word to insert emotions, use stronger dialogue.

“How should I know,” she said furiously.
“How the hell should I know?” she said.

- If you use an –ly word to enhance a verb, find a stronger verb.

She walked slowly (or unsteadily) down the street.
She strolled (or tottered) down the street.


Remember, when editing use that find function. Check your –ly words and be honest, isn't there a better way to say it?