It’s common advice in writers’ workshops that adverbs should be replaced with active verbs whenever possible, and that you shouldn’t use too many adverbs. But how many adverbs is too many? I decided to find out.
I went to three respected literary magazines and randomly selected the following three stories:
Bogdonoff, Nathan. ”Indoor Animals.” New England Review, Vol. 39, No. 4 (2018).
Li, Yiyun. “All Will Be Well.” New Yorker. 11 March 2019.
Roth, Philip. “Goodbye Columbus.” Paris Review, Issue 20, Autumn-Winter 1958-1959.
I copied and pasted the stories into Word, searched for “ly” and highlighted the adverbs in blue. Then I copied the phrases or sentences in which they appeared into a separate document, and counted the number of occurrences (no, I am not always this OCD).
Then I averaged the three to find a good target number (okay, maybe I am always this OCD). In all three instances, the number of adverbs represented less than 1% of the total number of words in the story.
What I Learned
Adverbs should represent less than 1% of your total word count.
When you do use an adverb, it should be to describe an action for which there is not a better verb. Examples:
“I never called ahead, and rarely had to wait” – we don’t have a verb that expresses waiting as a rare occurrence.
“I may say it a bit too ringingly, too fast, too up-in-the-air, but I say it” – again, there’s no particular verb to express this particular style of speaking
“The fawn is peeing, steadily and unabashedly, all over the floor.” – I don’t mean to be gross, but we don’t have a polite verb for sustained or shame-free urination.
Sometimes, adverbs are used deliberately for effect:
“these were my most tiresome traits, and I used them tirelessly”
“They looked like two lambs, impeccably prepared by their elders as sacrifices to appease a beast or a god.”
Sometimes it seems to be about characterization or voice:
“She dove beautifully”
“The darker it got the more savagely did Brenda rush the net”
“I wasn’t entirely free from the demands of stating my opinions”
Adverbs also appear to be commonly used to express time:
As part of the Spotlight on Speakers series, Gabrielle LaFargue will present an historical overview of the land designated as the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area by the Bureau of Land Management in the late 1980s. The 1880s silver boom was significant to the development of this area.
A slideshow presentation will include historical photos as well as flora and fauna photos of this important natural habitat.
This event will be held on Thursday, March 7th at 10 a.m. at the Huachuca City Town Hall located at 500 Gonzalez Blvd.
weeks ago today, as I write this, my closest friend left all of us behind, going
on to whatever, if anything, is next. She left behind a lot of broken hearts
and fond memories. Fortunately, because she was a wonderful writer of poetry
and prose, a painter, a musician, and much more, we will have tangible things
to hold near to revive those memories.
left “too soon,” of course. Far earlier than any of us would have wished.
Frankly, we would have wished that she would never leave and spare us that
pain. Never mind that if we were the
ones to leave first, we would be inflicting that pain of leaving on her.
Such is the nature of our feelings about those we hold most dear, even at times when letting go is the kindest thing to do. I do not think that was the case this time, but what do I know?
I promised my friend KL that I’d give this journal a local shout-out, so here’s some info on this unique publication and reading opportunity.
Rain Shadow Review is the brainchild of Arizona poet Richard Shelton, whose involvement with prison writing workshops goes all the way back to 1974. The writing in the magazine comes from current or former inmates of the Arizona prison system.
The last three issues of Rain Shadow Review have been edited by UA professor Erec Toso.
Online, you’ll find intriguing poems, truly stunning artwork, and a gripping prose piece about SIDS by Steven P. Arthur.
If you stop by the University of Arizona Poetry Center Library, you can pick up your latest copy of Rain Shadow Review – you should, it’s free and it’s good reading.
If you’ve ever been in jail or prison, you could become a contributor to this magazine. Visit online at https://rainshadowreview.com/ or mail a COPY of your best writing to:
Rain Shadow Review P.O. Box 85462 Tucson, AZ 85754-5462
To grow as a writer, you know that you have to do two things: read, and write. Without accountability, reading seriously or writing regularly can be a real challenge.
One easy way to gain accountability and to force yourself to read outside your genre is to join a local book club. I belong to the “Lit Guild,” which is a student club sponsored by Cochise College and open to all members of the community. Every semester there’s a different theme. In the past we’ve read dystopian novels, magical realism, and books about trains, to name a few topics.
This semester, the theme is Literary Memoirs. Here’s the skinny on upcoming meetings:
Friday, February 15th, 11:30 AM-1:00 PM The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy Room 901, Cochise College, Sierra Vista Campus (901 N. Columbo Ave).
Friday, March 22nd, 11:30 AM-1:00 PM Educated by Tara Westover. Room 901, Cochise College, Sierra Vista Campus (901 N. Columbo Ave).
Friday, April 26th, 11:30 AM-1:00 PM Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. Off-campus meeting at Get Lit. Bookstore, (1502 E. Fry Blvd. Sierra Vista)
Club facilitator Mary Coyle says, “Roxanna at Get Lit Books carries our titles, often at a discount. Please support Sierra Vista’s great little bookstore! Go to http://www.getlitbooks.com or call (520) 843-0101.”
For more information, contact Mary Coyle at <firstname.lastname@example.org>.
A few members of the group have decided to track our daily word counts–for better or worse! For January we’re doing something a little different: each person can set their own goal, rather than everyone having the same one. Here’s the spreadsheet.
first encountered De/Compositions: 101 Good Poems Gone Wrong as a text
book for an undergraduate English course I had to take to build up my
humanities credits before I could be accepted into a Master’s Degree program in
English at the University of Central Oklahoma. Author W. D. Snodgrass’s idea,
to take 101 highly-regarded poems, from Ben Jonson and William Shakespeare to
Donald Hall’s 1990 “The Man in the Dead Machine,” and turn them into something
less than great, is an interesting one, particularly as an academic exercise.
He groups the poems into five general categories—abstract and general versus
concrete and specific; undercurrents; the singular voice; metrics and music;
and structure and climax—and focuses his “de/composition” work in these areas.
a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Delaware, is both a
good enough poet to do this, and one not good enough. Why do I say that?
the one hand, when “de/composing” each poem, he maintains its poetic structure,
in particular its form and its rhyme and beat patterns, while reducing the
qualities that made the poem stand out. With some poems, he even provides alternative
versions with different beat patterns or number of beats per line. In a few
cases, he even shows early drafts by the poet him- or herself, so the reader
can see how the poem developed.
of this is fine, even excellent… for an advanced poetry student who has the
time and guidance to study each poem and absorb the lessons the
important to keep in mind what this little book (barely 60 pages long) is, and
what it is not.
it is: a Hallmark gift book with a 1973 copyright date; a slim collection of
Native American song lyrics, poetry, legends, and reproductions of paintings.
The translations date as far back as 1923.
it is not: an in-depth or representative study of Native American culture, art,
this book reveals should not be a surprise: that Native Americans experience
the same feelings of love and desire for, and devotion to others; that they use
song to prepare themselves for battle; and that their songs reflect the
important times, activities, and events in their lives. The editor’s very
limited commentary also reflects some of the attitudes of white Americans about
the “Indians” that held at that time.
Merton Babcock edited a wide variety of books, including collections of
Shakespeare, Melville, Thoreau, Whitman, Poe, Longfellow, and Hurston, and
other books on topics ranging from the Koran to communication theory. It’s easy
to wonder how Hallmark was able to enlist such a scholar to do a book like this,
and why he agree to.
not over-analyze this little book. It represents just the merest sip from the
vast lake of the artistic, literary, and cultural works of the first peoples of
the Americas. If that sip whets the reader’s curiosity and encourages him or
her to learn more, it has done something good.
books in a series can be hard to write. Ask me how I know. Balfor’s Salvation is the second book in Susan Trombley’s Shadows in Sanctuary series.
Lilith’s Fall, the first book in the
series, Stacia Dornan is part of a human team that joins with a band of umbrose
to rescue the umbrose’s Prince Balfor, who’d been captured by the umbrose’s
enemies, the adurians, and was being tortured. During the rescue, Stacia is
seriously injured but she and Balfor are placed together so that, despite being
barely conscious as well as in great pain, they make a tenuous connection by
briefly holding hands.
Balfor’s Salvation begins some years later. Humans and umbrose want to expand their commercial ties, thanks largely to Lilith from book one being the concubine of Balfor’s number two, Duke Ranove. Somehow Balfor remembers Stacia from his rescue and wants her to be his primary contact. This slender thread brings them together, and predictably it’s lust at first sight.
To read the rest of the review, please click here.
subtitle to this book by Susan J. Ellis is “The Executive Role in Successful
Volunteer Involvement,” and that’s true as far as it goes. For executives in businesses
or organizations in which volunteers make up only a small fraction of the total
workforce, this book is an excellent resource. Ellis devotes full chapters to
budgeting for volunteers, the impact and financial value of volunteer
contributions, understanding the volunteer/employee relationship (especially
how it can go wrong and what to do to prevent or fix it), legal issues, and
managing volunteers at all levels, from those performing basic tasks to those
supporting the executive suite. For these topics and others, the book provides
a wealth of information and keen insights, including how to address and change
dismissive or fearful attitudes among employees about the volunteers who are working
there’s a whole range of other organizations the book barely even mentions:
those in which volunteers make up the vast majority of the workforce and the
paid staff represents the minority. These organizations include veteran or
military-affiliated groups, medical condition or other single-issue advocacy
groups, and many others. They have chapters or similar teams spread across a
wide area, such as the entire U.S., supported by a small organizational
headquarters, often located in a state or national capital. An entire, separate
book could be devoted to these groups.
To read the rest of the review, please click here.
ticked off this week. No getting around it; I am. But I’m also sad and
of April 11th, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that there
have been 555 confirmed cases of measles so far this year. That’s more than in
all of 2018 (372) and the highest number since 2014 (667). Measles was declared
“eliminated” in the U.S. in 2000, but that means the disease isn’t present all
the time (or “endemic”), not that it doesn’t exist at all.
from countries where measles is still
endemic bring cases into the U.S. every year. Usually, there are enough people
who’ve been vaccinated around them that no one else catches the disease, or a
few do, and then no one else does. This is “herd immunity” at work.
there are states and municipalities around the country where people can claim
all sorts of reasons for not wanting to get vaccinated, or get their kids
vaccinated. As a result, not only are they now vulnerable to this disease—and a
lot of others—but so are the people around them.
of these people cite religious beliefs. Some of them live in relatively small,
tightly knit communities like the Orthodox Jews in part of New York City.
Others are scattered throughout their cities like, say, Christian Scientists.
Or they live in isolated rural areas. I’m not happy about them for reasons I’ll
make clear later.
much more concerned about the ordinary but science-ignorant citizens who’ve
been suckered by the anti-vaccine movement into believing emotion-laden
allegations that vaccines cause all sorts of conditions, the most famous, or
infamous, being autism. Never mind that in the case of autism, the scientist
whose study started the whole thing retracted his research long ago, agreeing
with his critics that he’d made some pretty serious errors in his work and
But the virus of fear has been released into the wild.
fundamental element of my Eternity Plague
series—The Eternity Plague (book 1), Chrysalis (book 2), and Wild Spread (book 3, currently in draft)—is
that five naturally-mutated viruses have infected all of humanity and are doing
all sorts of strange and not necessarily wonderful things to everyone. My
heroine, Dr. Janet Hogan, discovers the viruses and has to try to stop them
before they do too many awful things. Good luck with that: so far the viruses
are doing more things faster than Janet and her team can respond to them. How
will the series end? Sorry, no spoilers here.
because these books are science
fiction, I wanted to ground them in science, and good science at that. But having
the viruses cure and prevent all viral diseases and repair the genetic
mutations that cause others?
yeah, that seems like a stretch. But that’s why I write “fiction beyond the
I’m not a geneticist like Janet is, nor do I play one on TV or in the movies,
so I needed to do a fair amount of research to be able to present things in a
credible but futuristic way, since the series is set in the mid- to late 2030s.
For example, early in The Eternity Plague, Janet and her team are deep inside a virtual reality simulation of a gene’s DNA being run through a megamolecule called a ribosome, which “reads” the DNA and creates a protein. I invoke other genetic machinery, including something called messenger RNA to help make the protein, which it does in real life.
cliché “writing a book is like running a marathon” has, like all other clichés,
that kernel of truth that gets worn out from overuse. But the kernel remains
got to thinking about this because, while I work on draft #4 of Wild Spread, I’m also getting ready for
my 19th consecutive year of volunteering with the Oklahoma City
Memorial Marathon. There are many parallels between writing the book and my
volunteer work—which I do to honor the memory of a friend who was killed in the
bombing of the Murrah Federal Building—the first being that they’re both important
to me. I’ve also completed one half-marathon and two books, so I can speak with
at least some knowledge of running
other parallels between writing and marathoning include:
They require persistence. This is the obvious
one. Both require continuous, steady exertion and development in order to
complete the task. Runners and writers both build endurance and confidence over
time, and both must learn a lot along the way, about themselves and what it
takes to achieve their goal.