Tip #2 Refuse to be a grammar bigot. (Or what did that adverb ever do to you anyway?)

Tip #2 in the 52 Ways Not to Get Published Series


Adverb (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am amazed at the number of times I’ve heard that one should never have more than two “ly” words on one page.  Writer’s workshops, books, tutorials and web pages have all expounded this simplistic piece of advice to the novice writer.

Most of my amazement centers on the fact that it’s always worded just like that—‘avoid “ly” words.’  Um, those are adverbs (usually.)  Perhaps if you don’t know the basic parts of speech, you shouldn’t be giving out advice on writing.  Just a thought.

This “rule” is also blatant discrimination against an entire group of perfectly legitimate words.  Adverbs fill an important function in our language, yet they (along with their close cousins, the adjectives) are anathema to writing instructors and editors throughout the English-speaking world.

I get the point—by avoiding the over use of adverbs, writers are forced to choose stronger and more evocative verbs.  But why should verbs have all the fun?  Sometimes, verbs just can’t do the job alone.  “I tip-toed across the ice” evokes images of me subsequently on my backside.  “I stepped gingerly across the ice” may actually get me to safety without major mishap.  Thank Webster for that adverb!

When you read classic literature, you find many of the great authors of history wove their prose like a tapestry with threads of many colors.  They crafted vast sentences that seemed designed to be hung on the wall and admired.  In today’s world of instant gratification and text messages, we are expected to make our point in the most clear, concise method we can manage.  Modifiers must pay the price.

Granted, “Jesus wept” is commonly considered not only the shortest sentence in the Bible, but also the most powerful.  But were it surrounded by sentences of similar construction (Mary birthed, Eve ate, David romped, God scolded…) one of our most widely read texts of the western world would read like a Dick and Jane textbook.  While a host of Sunday school children would delight in their easier scripture lessons, I doubt many others would find religious inspiration.

Those of us who are following the path toward non-publication have the freedom to cast off the restrictions that published authors are bound to follow.  We have the entire playground of written language in which to seek our recreation.

For a writer’s greatest tools are words, and there is often little difference between a tool and a toy.  Words are our toys.  We should be allowed to play with them.  All of them.

(Unless I have miscounted, 7 “ly” words were used in the construction of this blog post.)

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