I expect a mob of torchbearers to greet me outside my home tomorrow morning after having read this post, and I’m okay with that. It’s been building up for years, and I have to let it out.
Writers are advised on grammar at every turn. We want to succeed; we want to be published. Therefore, advice doled out by fellow authors or professional editors becomes compiled in the grey matter of our minds and sticks there like perfectly cooked spaghetti noodles.
Punctuation rules aside, some writing advice should be taken as seriously as Bruce Jenner.
Useless Words That Aren’t That Useless, Really
Really. Suddenly. That. Very. Started. Search for useless word articles, and those five pop up.
Ignoring the fact that most of the rewording suggestions in said articles take out these “useless” words and substitute adverbs, avoiding them sounds like practical advice, right?
Most of these should indeed be cut from your drafts, but they can also go a long way toward characterization, voice, and realistic dialogue.
How can you tell when to cut them? Simple: Delete them from the sentence and see if it still does its job.
1) I think that all puppies are adorable.
2) I think all puppies are adorable.
No context is lost by deleting “that.” Sentence Two wins this round.
1) He didn’t really want to go, but he followed anyway.
2) He didn’t want to go, but he followed anyway.
I’d keep Sentence One if the character/voice calls for reluctance or sarcasm. If not, Sentence Two is better.
1) A very big mountain loomed on the horizon.
2) A gigantic mountain loomed on the horizon.
Even character/voice would bow to Sentence Two in this case.
1) John wanted to give up then, but suddenly remembered his wife, his daughter, his son, and found in himself a determination he never knew existed.
2) John wanted to give up then, but remembered his wife, his daughter, his son, and found in himself a determination he never knew existed.
This is cut from my first novel, and I stuck with Sentence One. Why? Because “suddenly” punctuated the dire consequences John was facing and his desire to give up. As a stand-alone sentence, “suddenly” should’ve been cut; as part of the overall narrative, I felt Sentence One had more power and punch.
Other articles highlight additional useless words, such as: just, maybe, perhaps, quite, amazing, literally, stuff, and things.
However, some things just can’t be avoided.
Again, voice, character, and dialogue can inform you on which words to cut. Treat each instance of these supposedly useless words as a new reason to validate their existence in your writing.
Adverbs Are Certainly Necessary. Sometimes.
Stephen King once said, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
Grab your Kindle or Nook or what-have-you and download about 20 samples of new releases (indies are best). I’d be willing to bet 50% of them have an adverb in the first sentence, or at least on the first page. Keep swiping your screen. You’ll see a plethora of them.
Now, wait a minute. If one of the most prolific writers of our time has told us to avoid adverbs, why are publishers still pumping out novels rife with them?
Because some things just can’t be said without them, especially (gah!) in today’s writing world of tight word counts.
Though I agree they should be used scarcely (shoot me now!), I believe this advice applies to dialogue tags in particular.
“I’m strong enough to move a mountain,” he said jokingly.
“I can’t wait to meet my new nephew!” she said gleefully.
“I use adverbs on purpose,” he said purposely.
Avoid those. If you have to use adverbs elsewhere, do it. In most cases, they can help illuminate hypocrisies and avoid long-windedness. During editing phases, if you can cut them out without losing context, then go ahead, chop those bitches down.
The basic rule of one adverb per page is sage advice (though I’ll admit I average about two per page).
And Let’s Begin Sentences With Conjunctions
I’ll keep this one short and easy: Beginning a sentence with a conjunction is acceptable in today’s world. I do it all the time. Famous writers do it all the time. Why?
Because the practice of avoiding conjunctions to start a sentence needs to be buried in the annals of writing history.
Be careful, though. As with all other counterarguments on this post, you’ll want to space them out, or they’ll choke the pace of the story.
What Should You End Your Sentence With?
Take two minutes to watch this video before proceeding.
I agree with this.
If you want to come off as a pretentious, illiterate-sounding prick, by all means, avoid ending your sentences with prepositions.
But if you want to sound human and appeal to the masses, throw that ancient advice onto the floor and stomp that motherfucker into dust.
I have stricken many a word with red ink, then pushed my edits and techniques onto others. However, I know not all of them have to—or should—be followed. I always leave a simple disclaimer: These are only suggestions. Take what you want from them and ignore the rest.
The same holds true here. My counterpoints are personal beliefs, and many of you would disagree with my assessments. Maybe the original writers of these articles are on to something, and maybe I’m the disillusioned one.
Regardless, you have to break rules to understand rules, and I like to break stuff.
And if you happen to be in the mob ready to lynch me for disseminating horrible advice to impressionable writers everywhere, do me one favor: Burn my fucking car first.
Stay tuned. There’s more randomosity coming soon.