Wednesday, April 11, 2012
My sequel to DEMON is nearing 30,000 words so I’m thrilled with that progress. A few writing sites covered what has become popular again – the list of no-no’s for writers. It’s not that I get upset when I see this stuff. I find it amusing when agents and publishing houses collect this stuff to feed back to us in the editing rounds. The advice, supposedly to make our manuscripts into beauteous tightly wound editor’s triumphs, sends out waves of angst amongst the writers reading the no-no lists. I’ve decided to take a look at reality in bestselling novels, by a number of my favorites to illustrate some points I’d like to make. First up, Master Stephen King.
Let’s look at the dreaded adverb first. Nothing according to the experts makes a reader’s head spin on their shoulders like an adverb. On one page of the book ‘Needful Things’ by writing master Stephen King on page 194 of my hardbound first addition, which I opened at random, he incorporates three unnecessary but completely okay with me adverbs – happily, impatiently, and rarely. Then on the next page, Master King used ‘hardly’, and three instances of ‘barely’ – barely felt, barely heard, and barely speak. Oh… the pain. To add insult to injury, Master King had a monstrous simile on page 194. What’s the big deal you ask? Well, according to editors and writing experts today the simile should only make an appearance once or twice in an entire book. Lucky me, I popped open Master King’s ‘Needful Things’ to find one in the second paragraph of the very insightful page 194 – “…Frasier had hustled a protesting Keeton over to the betting windows like a sheepdog nipping a wayward lamb back o the herd.” What luck, 685 pages, and I picked the very page where Master King must have deposited his only simile. Ah contraire, my friends. I pop it open in my hands once more to page 476 and find another seething simile – “Holding a swatch of Slopey’s tee-shirt in a fist which was nearly the size of a daisy canned ham…” with a sprinkling of ‘hoarsely’ and ‘happily’ adverbial sins thrown in for good measure. You’d also need an adding machine to count up the master’s weak verbs in his tome. I’m not doing it.
I’m not writing this blog to make fun of anyone. I’m writing to point out the fact writing advice should not be taken in the form of holy gospel. Yes, if Master King had done a word find of happily and barely, he would probably have done a little more editing. I loved ‘Needful Things’. It was horrifying, nostalgic, and gripping. I like it just as it is. The agents and editors will of course laugh, claiming ‘yeah, well you ain’t Stephen King, Sparky’. No, but I’d like a little common sense and logic entering the debate of whether to strip a manuscript down to the point where it reads like a first grader’s prep book ‘Spot sees the ball’, ‘Jane throws the ball’. Rather than yanking the reader out of a paragraph, an adverb will flow as easily as ‘said’ in a dialogue tag, unless of course, you use one like ‘barely’ three times in the space of a few lines. Master King… really? :) I will return to this subject a few more times.