The Garlic Plight: Less is More (The Self-Editing Guide Part 9)

Imagine you are making your favorite dish for someone really special. There’s this certain ingredient called for in the recipe (let’s say garlic) that just sets off the meal. You’ve received lots of praise when adding this particular ingredient, and you just know it’s what will win your friend over when he takes that first bite. So you add a dash or two as usual, but that’s not enough. This person is really special, and you want to make sure he can taste the special ingredient. So you keep dashing in the flavor until you’re certain it will stand out above everything else. He will have no choice but to notice it and be impressed now.

However, when he takes that first bite, his eyes bulge and his face twists as he chews. He nods with fervor and gives the thumbs up, but something is off. Is he simply excited over how delicious it is? Surprised, even? He grabs his water and gulps it down before looking at you and asking what you put in it. It’s clear by his expression and timid voice he’s nervous about something. Finally, he admits there’s just this one flavor overriding everything else, and it would be delicious if it wasn’t so strong.

You’re deflated. You tried so hard to impress your friend, but instead of letting the garlic accent the meal, you let it take over and failed tremendously. So, what do you do? You probably vow to avoid adding garlic to any recipe in the future and clean your fridge of the horrid stuff, but is that really the right choice? Had you neglected to add garlic at all, your friend would have eaten a bland meal devoid of the one thing your previous subjects all praised. Would he have finished it? Probably. Would he have remembered it? Probably not.

The Garlic Plight

The key in this scenario is to always remember one three-letter phrase that keeps beautiful or delicious add-ons in check: less is more.

As a writer, I’m sure you’ve noticed how often people bash adverbs. I never even considered writing an article about them because of this bit of advice I usually come across daily:

“Cut all adverbs.”

“Adverbs weaken your narrative.”

“Adverbs are for the amateur writer trying to impress and wow the reader.”

These are all true to some extent. Too many adverbs do weaken your narrative. New writers do go overboard with adverbs because they think it’s a good way to impress the reader. Adverbs do wow the reader.

Yes, I said that. Adverbs wow the reader. Why else do you think they’re so overused now? Much like the analogy of too much garlic, we discovered what works and we went overboard with it. We want to be the best, right? So we do whatever it takes to stand out from other writers. We think, for a moment, that we can add more beautiful adverbs than anyone else and be remembered for our moving prose. But that’s not how it works.

Adverb inclusion is not the key to moving prose—or maybe it is, it’s a matter of opinion just like the garlic—but that doesn’t mean the reader wants to see nothing but adverbs. An adverb is more like a trump card you use when the narrative calls for it. A trump card is not to be used often, and you should exhaust all other outlets before you resort to wasting it. An adverb is your ace in the hole when you want to write something worth remembering . . . something worth quoting.

Here are two examples of times when adverbs were used effectively:

  1. “When we force something to fit where it doesn’t belong, it breaks. When surrounded by people who can’t appreciate our beauty, humans essentially do the same.” —Kayla Krantz
  2. “The heavy ache in my chest suggested that I was simply trying, and failing, to trade one heartbreak for another. While I still waited for my mind to accept the good news and relinquish all the pain it no longer had reason to feel, my stubborn heart tightened its grip on the past, refusing to forget. It happily lapped up this new betrayal, these freshly severed ties to another I’d loved with such devotion. I never would have imagined that in gaining what I thought I’d wanted most, I would lose something of equal importance, finding myself right back where I had begun.” —Jessica V. Fisette

This is my opinion, and as you can see, one of the quotes are written by yours truly. However, Kayla Krantz’s quote has stuck with me for two reasons.

Number one: It’s true. There’s no doubt the reality of these words resonate within me and will continue to do so for days to come.

Number two: That adverb cannot be removed.

Every time I think back to this quote, I think of the adverb. The editor in me tries so hard to remove it, but it doesn’t read the same. And the writer/poet in me smiles because I can’t take it out. Without that adverb, the entire quote loses something—it loses a huge part of what makes it memorable.

I had planned to write an article on why adverbs are bad, but I have to admit this quote changed my mind. Then, I remembered an ad I created a while back for my upcoming release featuring the second quote, and again, tried to reread the quote without simply and happily. The intended meaning/effect is lost.

But one thing I have to point out is how much Kayla and I both try to avoid overusing adverbs. The reason the quotes aren’t filled with five adverbs to every verb is because we KNOW less is more. The adverbs that made the cut were carefully selected and strategically placed. There was a time I would have added multiple adverbs to that quote, and considering how old it is and how many times I’ve edited it, there were probably a few more that met an untimely demise as I honed my skills as a writer.

So remember, less is more. Don’t purposely choose a weak verb so you can spice it up with an adverb. Don’t run to the thesaurus so you can find all the different ways to exchange sprinted for speedily, hastily, carelessly ran or any other combination of a weak verb with multiple adverbs chasing after it. Sprinted is always more exciting than ran, no matter how many pretty helpers you tack on. But don’t neglect them altogether. Adding a strategic amount of adverbs to your narrative can help it feel well-rounded and read smoother.

How do you handle adverbs? Are you a fan of using them to achieve poetic prose, or does the very sight make your editor’s eye twitch? We’re interested in hearing your take on the topic in the comments!


FIRST QUOTE FROM KAYLA KRANTZ’S RITUALS OF THE NIGHT SERIES:

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SECOND QUOTE FROM THE ALDURIAN CHRONICLES:

Trilogy


Jessica Victoria Fisette is the author of The Soul Reaper series, Fragments, and The Aldurian Chronicles. Her hobbies include discovering the benefits of natural medicine, wine tasting, and trying new recipes in the kitchen. She likes to unwind by typing out a scene or two in her latest obsession or indulging in a good book. Having been passionate about writing since she was a little girl, she is constantly coming up with new ideas for future stories and creating unique, strongwilled—albeit flawed—characters to overcome the difficult obstacles she places before them. Having spent all her life in rural Southeast Texas, she appreciates the tranquility of country living and hopes to implement such a love for nature into her beautiful, ever-so-curious little girl.

You can follow her by clicking the links below. 

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