Monday, November 16, 2015

The road to hell is paved with adverbs

Yesterday, I saw a quote attributed to Stephen King.

It was one of those helpful-not-helpful “writer” memes on Pinterest. It goes like this:

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

What the what?

How can you just deny the usefulness of an entire category of word? These are those colorful little word friends that hobble about with “-ly” at the end and are used to describe verbs or adjectives. They even have their own special little place on sentence diagrams. (Yes, I was/am a HUGE grammar nerd and LOVED diagramming sentences.)

It’s like that trick: Quick: Don’t think of an elephant!

The only thing you can think of is a bloody elephant.

All I could see were the adverbs buried in my manuscript like evil little ninjas. It’s discouraging. I’ve already got a really sinister “inner editor”. It’s not like that bitch needs any help.

There had to be more to it, so researched this a bit. And, like any corrupted quote, it is misrepresented. The full sentence goes like this:
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops.” 
It’s part of a passage from Stephen King’s book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. He goes on to explain that adverbs start to spring up like dandelions on a yard. The first one or two may be a pass, but before you know it, you can have a yard full of them. The context was starting to make a bit more sense. And he introduced a more intriguing point: adverbs shouldn’t be attached to dialogue attribution. (You know the little things that are supposed to be seamless after quotes.)

I can get behind that thought. It is a lot more powerful to see something like:

“I won!” she shouted.
Instead of:
“I won!” she said loudly
One’s emotional and the other is well… lame.

So what I learn from this? There’s a context for all these “writing rules” out there. Have the brains to question them, especially the absolute ones. And I should really spend less time on Pinterest. The road to hell is paved with Pins.