Adverbs: Less Is More

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.

My Methodology

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:

  • rarely
  • finally
  • suddenly (which should be used sparingly, BTW)
  • recently, etc.

Click here to see the data set.

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San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area

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.

The Friends We Leave, the Friends Who Leave Us

Two 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.

Cappy Love Hanson portrait

Cappy 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?

To continue reading, please click here.

Local Lit Mag: Rain Shadow Review

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


Broaden your horizons with Literary Guild Book Club

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 <coylem@cochise.edu>.

Clip art from http://clipart-library.com/clipart/1641269.htm

“De/Compositions” Review

3-star rating

I 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.

Snodgrass, 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?

On 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.

All 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 “de/composition” teaches.

To read the rest of the review, please click here.

“Walk Quietly the Beautiful Trail” Review

3-star rating

It’s important to keep in mind what this little book (barely 60 pages long) is, and what it is not.

Walk Quietly the Beautiful Trail book cover

What 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.

What it is not: an in-depth or representative study of Native American culture, art, or literature.

What 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.

C. 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.

Do 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.

“Balfor’s Salvation” Review

3-star rating

Middle 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.

Balfor's Salvation cover

In 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.

“From the Top Down” Review

3-star rating
From the Top Down book cover

The 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 with them.

However, 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.

Measles, the Anti-Vax Movement, and the Moral Imperative

I’m ticked off this week. No getting around it; I am. But I’m also sad and frustrated.

As 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.

Travelers 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.

But 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.

Some 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.

I’m 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 conclusions.

But the virus of fear has been released into the wild.

Read more of this post.

A Formula for the Science in Science Fiction

The 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.

But 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?

Uh, yeah, that seems like a stretch. But that’s why I write “fiction beyond the known,” right?

Now, 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.

A ribosome
A ribosome

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.

To continue reading, please click here.

The Book/Marathon Connection

The 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 true.

Young man running with computer
Photo by Photostock, via FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I 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 and writing.

The 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.

To read the rest of the post, please click here.