Death to adverbs, part II.

I don’t feel good today. Woke up with a cold. I hate summer colds. They make me write short sentences. So don’t expect much.

In my spare time I’m noodling around with a piece of fiction that requires me to channel the writing voice of one of my characters. The character is a blowhard, and crafting a distinct voice for him is harder than I thought it would be. If only I could get the Allen County GOP chairman to write more guest columns for the Fort Wayne newspapers; they’re textbook lessons in blowhard-y prose:

It’s time to put an end to the wave of speculation and rumors surrounding the Fort Wayne mayoral campaign. The Allen County GOP stands steadfastly and whole-heartedly behind our candidate for mayor, Matt Kelty. We will work diligently to spread his message and to make him the next leader of our city.

All political parties at some point suffer from a schism caused by a primary in which two or more qualified candidates seek the nomination. This obviously leaves some of the party’s members with bruised feelings. I deeply respect people who have yet to come on board; however, they should realize that the train on the track to victory has left the station. I am very hopeful that these individuals will be waiting at the next stop as the Kelty train heads toward the November election.

The chairman is a lawyer, and lawyers tend to talk — and write — as though they’re paid by the word, with a $100 bonus for every adverb they can sneak in:

Kelty is a man of integrity and character whose message deserves more attention than it gets. Too much has been said about the primary election and who had his or her picture taken with whom. Conspiracy theorists have speculated about supposed smoky backroom deals; these accusations are entirely false and reflect unfamiliarity with the primary election process.

Never use one complimentary adjective when you can use two; never use a simple and unshaded word (“false”) without an unnecessary modifier (“entirely”).

Can’t forget those passive-voice hoedowns:

With the Republican and Democratic candidates having been selected, the county parties now become involved. I have arranged with Republican Party stalwarts meetings where we have fostered camaraderie between the party and the 2007 GOP slate, headed by Kelty, and I’ve asked entrepreneur extraordinaire Don Willis to set up focus groups between Kelty and influential members of the party.

I could go on, but you amateur editors out there have the links and can make merry all you want. Writing is hard, and not everyone has a knack for it. It’s as much in the ear as anywhere else, and you either hear the music or you don’t. Miles Davis knew which notes not to play. If only everyone could write like “Kind of Blue.” The chairman should listen to “So What” and try again.

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” — Stephen King.

Awk. Back to bed.

Posted at 10:37 am in Media |

15 responses to “Death to adverbs, part II.”

  1. crack said on July 27, 2007 at 10:56 am

    Awk as in Aho, Weinberger, Kernighan?

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  2. Julie Robinson said on July 27, 2007 at 11:18 am

    Adverbs aside, Mr. Kelty seems to be on a parallel course with Alberto Gonzalez. It’s very difficlut not to think they are either: A. Idiots B. Liars.

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  3. Danny said on July 27, 2007 at 11:21 am

    I’ve never read any Stephen King. What is your opinion of him, Nance? Does he hear the music or just the cash register?

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  4. nancy said on July 27, 2007 at 11:28 am

    Never a big fan, but I enjoyed “Misery” and I’ve found some of his short fiction pretty satisfying. He’s a wonderful storyteller and a good writer, and probably the hardest-working pen in the game. It’s just that horror’s not really my thing.

    I liked the first half of “The Stand” but once the good people all found their way to Boulder, Colo., I put it down unfinished. It’s like that a lot with me ‘n’ Steve.

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  5. nancy said on July 27, 2007 at 11:45 am

    As for Kelty and his campaign-finance problems: I’m trying very hard not to pay any attention to it — it’s not my back yard anymore — but from what I’ve seen, his explanations ring like 24K b.s. These sorts of situations are precisely what campaign-finance disclosure regulations are designed to uncover. I mean: Precisely. I don’t know his motive for concealment, but concealment is absolutely what it was.

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  6. brian stouder said on July 27, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    As for Kelty and his campaign-finance problems:

    I look at the upcoming Mayoral election as a test of Mark GiaQuinta’s old ‘giraffe theory’. Years ago GiaQuinta (local lawyer and Democratic party luminary) was on the radio – quite possibly with Madam Telling Tales, although I can’t specifically recall – and he said that Allen County Republicans would elect a giraffe, if it was on the Republican ticket in November.

    Fast foward a decade, and Fort Wayne has annexed many Republican suburban strongholds while Democrats controlled the mayor’s office, and property taxes (which are generally rising anyway) SPIKED up for these Fort Wayne-phobic anti-Democrats, who can now VOTE in Fort Wayne’s municipal elections…….and by all conventional wisdom, the mayor’s job was a sure-thing Republican win…..and the GOP nominee absolutely IMPLODES right after winning the primary –

    and now we shall see about GQ’s old theory. (if you ask me, Tom Henry is going to win by about 2:1; or else, I would prefer the giraffe)

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  7. steven r. shine said on July 27, 2007 at 12:34 pm

    We miss you in Fort Wayne, Nancy. I wish I would have had you in high school as my English teacher! Hope all is going well in Detroit.
    Steven R. Shine

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  8. nancy said on July 27, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    Always happy to help. In the future:

    1) Kill all your adverbs.
    2) Condense all rough drafts by 33 percent.
    3) Don’t say “deeply” under any circumstances, unless you’re describing a stabbing, or writing pornography.

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  9. steven r. shine said on July 27, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    Thanks for the advice; I’ll pass it on to the editors of your former competitor, the Journal Gazette, who edited my original draft by at least 33 percent and who made gramatical changes prior to publication.

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  10. alex said on July 27, 2007 at 1:21 pm

    I read King when I was a kid and found his work riveting; it was actually quite good as dreck goes, as were most of the movies based on it. Then I got an education in real literature and realized that a good writer holds you spellbound and makes your spine tingle and your hair stand on end without ever once invoking the paranormal.

    Re idiots and liars and legalese, it’s amazing how I sense through all his blowhardiness that Mr. Shine is holding his nose. All that energizing of the base has finally come back to bite him. It wouldn’t surprise me if they start calling for his head and demanding the local GOP be led by a genu-wine Crees-chun.

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  11. LA mary said on July 27, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    Have you ever read the short story, ” A Distant Episode,” by Paul Bowles? It’s plenty scary without anything supernatural going on.

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  12. alex said on July 27, 2007 at 3:04 pm

    I didn’t recall it particularly, Mary, but just Wikipedia’d and I must say it sounds plenty gruesome. I do remember Sheltering Sky from some long ago college class, along with some other short stories.

    Seem to recall something about the Bowleses having very interesting sex lives.

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  13. LA mary said on July 27, 2007 at 3:48 pm

    I believe so, yes. Buddies with William Burroughs and all that group.

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  14. Kim said on July 28, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    More advice to Mr. Shine (and anyone else either in or with a toe in this trade): Read aloud all submissions to the newspaper prior to actual submission. Does it sound like you speak? If so, you’re probably still too long but your voice is right where it should be. If not (and, really, Mr. Shine, I can hardly believe you speak this way even if you are an attorney!) then you need to pretend you’re writing/speaking to the wife/sig other/ex when you write.

    Imagine this, for instance:
    brrrrring! brrrrrring!


    Hi, honey, it’s Steve.

    Oh, hey, how’s your day going?

    Well, I have arranged with Republican Party stalwarts meetings where we have fostered camaraderie the party and the 2007 GOP slate, headed by Kelty, and I’ve asked entrepeneur extraordinaire Don Willis to set up focus groups between Kelty and influential members of the party.

    (silence on the other end)

    Um, you still there?

    Oh, yep, right here. I must’ve dozed off. When did you start speaking Japanese, Steve?

    Nance, you are so right: Writing is hard, and not everyone hears that music. But sounding natural is within the collective grasp, I think (and you likely agree), and that is the key to better writing.

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  15. GWM said on September 28, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    I read King’s book on writing and never having read any of his fiction, so I picked up The Stand (since he referred to it a lot in the book on writing).

    He’s a good story teller and builds characters well, but I think his writing kinda sucks (pls don’t recite the obvious about his success and I did like the book anyway). He uses the passive voice a lot in the book and I felt like I was drowning in adverbs -which is what he preaches against in his book on writing.

    Anyway, just curious of what others think.


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