Writing Badly, Well: Part 2, -ly adverbs

Another rule you hear all the time is -ly adverbs are for lazy verbs. If you have a lazy verb that requires an -ly adverb, delete the -ly adverb and change the lazy verb into a dynamic verb.

Example: “He said loudly” can easily be corrected and strengthened by changing to “He yelled.” You’re cutting words (which is always good) and you’re using a dynamic verb that MEANS “said loudly.”

These are true moments where the -ly adverb is almost always deletable. And THIS is what the rule is meant to fix. However, this rule is also taken to extreme to include every -ly adverb in the history of storytelling!

I am actually (UH OH) taken aback when I read a story and there are ZERO -ly adverbs. They do exist for a reason. They are not bastard children of the English language. They need love too.

Let me give you a good example where an -ly adverb works and should never be reworked to be deleted:

“She squished the bug.” versus “She squished the bug longingly.”

I’ll wait till you’re done digesting that last little ditty and are done squirming around.

But now you see what the benefit is to an -ly adverb. “Squished” is already active and strong. The -ly adverb here acts not as a typical -ly adverb but as something more. It serves to tell a whole new story with a single word. She didn’t just squish the bug, she longs for something. She longs for something so creepy and disturbing that squishing the bug brings that emotion into her consciousness. If you read it like Flowers in the Attic, you get one story in a single word. If you read it like Pet Cemetery, you got an entirely different story in that same solitary word.

Do we know what that something she longs for is? No. But do we need to know what that something is to get the full effect of that sentence? Hell no! If you shuddered, it worked.

As one who enjoys screwing with the reader, and scaring the crap out of people, that’s one of my favorite flash fictions. And, as one who enjoys  a good horror story, the scariest part isn’t that we know what the something is, it’s that we DON’T know what the something is!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *