There ARE 'rules' in writing, as in all artistic disciplines, many of them based on conventions. (Stories are about change, dialogue shouldn't be expositional, main character should drive the plot, for example.) And there are always writers who set out to break the rules and subvert expectations. All good so far. But there is another difficulty, which is that some 'rules' turn into an orthodoxy.
Some agents take a dim view of adverbs, which is bad news if you have submitted a script which breaks this particular 'rule'. Recently, I heard that one agent say they would bin any submission that had an adverb on the first page.
So I'm posting three openings that this agent would presumably have had to jettison, were they to come her way. All three novels are seminal works which have been praised for their literary merits as well as being best sellers. One of them has been awarded the Pulitzer prize.
|The author contemplating the plight of adverbs|
2. 'When he woke in the woods in the dark and the cold of the night he'd reach out to touch the child sleeping beside him. Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world. His hand rose and fell softly with each precious breath. He pushed away the plastic tarpaulin and raised himself in the stinking robes and blankets and looked toward the east for any light but there was none. In the dream from which he'd wakened he had wandered in a cave where the child led him by the hand. Their light playing over the wet flowstone walls. Like pilgrims in a fable swallowed up and lost among the inward parts of some granitic beast. Deep stone flues where the water dripped and sang. Tolling in the silence the minutes of the earth and the hours and the days of it and the years without cease. Until they stood in a great stone room where lay a black and ancient lake. And on the far shore a creature that raised its dripping mouth from the rimstone pool and stared into the light with eyes dead white and sightless as the eggs of spiders. It swung its head low over the water as if to take the scent of what it could not see. Crouching there pale and naked and translucent, its alabaster bones cast up in shadow on the rocks behind it. Its bowels, its beating heart. The brain that pulsed in a dull glass bell. It swung its head from side to side and then gave out a low moan and turned and lurched away and loped soundlessly into the dark.' (Movie adaptation clue: Viggo Mortensen.)
3. 'I see...' said the vampire, thoughtfully, and slowly he walked across the room towards the window. For a long time he stood there against the dim light from Divisadero Street and the passing beams of traffic. The boy could see the furnishings of the room more clearly now, the round oak table, the chairs. A wash basin hung on one wall with a mirror. He set his briefcase on the table and waited.' (Movie adaptation clue: Tom Cruise.)
1. Can you name the three novels?
2. Can you name the three authors?
3. What are the offending words?
|Light dawns, courtesy of Georgia O'Reilly|
Okay, so the novels are Pride and Prejudice, The Road and Interview with the Vampire, and the authors are Jane Austen, Cormac McCarthy and Anne Rice.
Worth bearing in mind. My own rule is that if you are using a word in your writing, it should be working hard enough to earn its place. But that may be too prescriptive in itself.
The adverbs that fall foul of the pared-down prose police are only one kind of adverb, too. Here is an overview from Cambridge Dictionaries online, just so you know.