Tuesday, March 06, 2012

What Would Elmore Do?

I learned this morning, MONKEY JUSTICE reached the elite eight in a contest for best ebook of 2011 on Spinetingler. I fear and dread contests (why can't we all win) but if you liked MONKEY JUSTICE and wish to vote for it--here it is.


It is Super Tuesday after all

Adverbs are pretty much out of favor in fiction writing, but here is where it trips me up.

She smiled.
She smiled slightly.
She smiled broadly.
She smiled ironically.
She smiled maliciously.
She smiled hesitantly.

Now these are very different smiles. And of course, to avoid the adverb, I could say something like "Her smile was a slight one." Or spend several sentences getting that across.

But how is making it an adjective any better? And is embedding the sort of smile it was in a lot more words to avoid an adverb a good choice. Is the occasional adverb really so bad? Doesn't it cut to the chase sometimes?

What would Elmore do? What would Joe Konrath do?


Dana King said...

I don't think even Leonard says never to use adverbs, but to lean that way whenever possible. Too many writers use them rather than think up a better image. "She smiled reluctantly" instead of "A smile forced its way around the corners of her mouth." Yes it's longer, but it's also a stronger image.

His bigger objection is about the use of Swifties, or using an adverb to modify a speech attribution other than "said," he admonished impolitely.

Al Tucher said...

To m his rules imply that he favors writing, and especially dialog, that describes itself and makes adverbs unnecessary. Of course, that's not always possible.

(Said the unknown writer insouciantly speaking for Elmore Leonard.)

David Cranmer said...

Hey! I was part of this Spinetingler contest. OMG! I lost! *grabs chest*

Once I recover you will get my vote, Patti. (Just don't tell Keith, Nigel, etc)

YA Sleuth said...

I voted :-)

I use adverbs all the time. But I don't know if it's more accepted in kids books...

I do like the Leonard rules.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I didn't know about the contest until today or I would have voted for you, David.

I try to use them sparingly but sometimes it makes a sentence more awkward.

Ron Scheer said...

Do we really need to know how somebody smiled? I'd want to trust the reader to fill in that blank based on the context. The avoidance of adverbs in modern writing seems as self-conscious as the avoidance of profanity in fiction 100 years ago, e.g., "a stream of oaths leaped from his mouth."

As for the Elite Eights, Patti, you're always elite in my book.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Ron!
I don't know if we do or not. I'll have to think about that. It seems to be it provides clues to the type of person who's smiling. A smile can be something so contrary to what it appears to be.

George said...

I'm fond of using adverbs actually.

Gerard said...

I think Konrath is too busy lecturing on electronic books.

BV Lawson said...

Congrats, Patti! I've already voted and wish you all the best in bringing home the trophy (troph-E?).

pattinase (abbott) said...

Very clever, Bonnie and thanks.

Todd Mason said...

Odd sort of March Madness polling Brian's set up there. But may a thousand monkeys justify.

What would Patti do sensibly? is the better question...if it's important, have her smile shyly, have him smile fleetingly...

Gigistar said...

I think banning adverbs from "any" page is an extreme position, and as such I think it just makes a writer's toolbox poorer.

On the other hand, they can be overused by the lazy writer, who could be tempted to embellish any verb with oh so many nuances.

Enriching one's prose with adverbs is so different from enriching it with clever dialogues or quick descriptive passages.

I mean, if you really have to put that adverb in because it badly serves the purpose of that passage, then why not finding a richer way to convey the same idea? Anyone could write "she smiled reluctantly", but if you can come up with a different, more creative way to say the same thing... what you write will be unique. And if it's good it will heighten the reader's enjoyment.

Thomas Pluck said...

Rules are meant to be broken.
Adverbs have their place. New writers are in love with them, which is why experienced writers suggest avoiding them. It also makes you strop your verbs bleeding sharp, which is the point of the lesson.

You can crack a weak grin, you can pinch your eyes closed in a smile, you can force a smile, you can quiver a smile... but smiling broadly, etc all work in context, especially when you want things to keep moving.

For example, the close-ups on Clint Eastwood's face during a showdown is the equivalent of "his lip curled in a wolf's grin," or "The turkey tracks around his eyes deepened." It slows it down.

If he was shooting up a bar full of rowdies and flicked an impish smile toward the madam gaping from the balcony... he can "smile impishly while picking off targets." that's quick, and I would not begrudge the use of such an adverb...

Abbs Pepper said...

If you need to paint a stronger image, why not ditch the adverb and go for it...
'She smiled like an alligator who hadn't eaten since Tuesday.'
'She had a smile like a scimitar: broad, gleaming and deadly.'
'She smiled tight as a ration book.'

btw The Beat that My Heart Skipped is one of my favorites too. Have you seen The Secret in their Eyes? You might enjoy it.