Stephen King

Free the Adverb


I’ve got myself in a bit of a muddle this week and I’m having a brain freeze about adverbs – the ones ending in ly.

The dilemma arose when I had a poem returned which had been submitted for feedback. Part of the feedback had red rings circled around two adverbs ending in ly. One of the ly words had the comment “adverb” next to it and later in the poem another ly word was outlined with “oh there goes another one.”

Having considered the feedback at length I was satisfied the two words in question were appropriate for the pace and context of the poem and the only (apologies for that one) reason they were being outlawed was for being adverbs.

With most creative writing texts, there is consensus that adverbs should be used with caution. William Zinsser in his book, Writing Well, states “most adverbs are unnecessary” and Stephen King takes the point further by suggesting “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

Listen to conversations and the spoken word, on both television and radio, and words ending in ly appear to be commonplace. Therefore, if ly words are a regular part of language why do they cause so much consternation when they appear in print?

Take this quote from A.O. Scott about the late Robin Williams, “Mr. Williams was one of the most explosively, exhaustingly, prodigiously, verbal comedians who ever lived.”

Or this famous haiku from Kobayashi Issa;

O snail
Climb Mount Fuji,
But slowly, slowly!

Both packed with adverbs, and in my opinion, all bringing depth and feeling to the writing and conversation.

Therein lies the dilemma. What is a wordsmith to do with adverbs?

Any advice would be GRATEFULLY received.

Waiting For A Train: Part 2

waiting-for-the-train-1504430-639x852The second habit of Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is to start with the end in mind.

There is much debate with writers around how effective this process can be. In his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, Stephen King details how he starts a book with only the first line in mind. He creates the first draft with the ending developing as he works through it. Agatha Christie didn’t know the ending of some of her books until she had reached the last chapter. Alternatively, there are numerous writers who plan and progress their work with military precision, with the end always in mind.

Whether you are a planner, or a go with the flow writer, the shared commonality is that every piece of work has an ending. The question posed is could your writing be different if you started at the end?

There are numerous writing resources providing writing prompts to assist writers. What if you used that prompt as the beginning of a piece of work and then rewrote the piece with the prompt as an ending. In effect writing it backwards.

When I worked as a police officer a similar technique was used to retrieve information

To Kill A Mockingbird

I have just re-read Harper Lee’s, To Kill A Mockingbird.

The last time I read this book was 40 years ago. On re-reading I found my memory had retained some of the niceties of the plot, but had forgotten some key elements of the story. I remembered the characters of Scout, Jem and Atticus Finch and their relationship with Boo Radley. What I completely forgot was that Tom Robinson was shot dead, attempting to escape from prison, and that Bob Ewell had tried to kill both Jem and Scout at the very end of the tale.

This is something that interests me about the brain and memory. Why, as a 13 year old, did my brain selectively remember some of the niceties of the story, but completely erase two of the more concerning elements?

Stephen King alludes to selective memory in his book, On Writing, when he makes reference to Mary Karr’s memoir, The Liars Club, referring to Karr as a writer remembering every detail about her early years. Yet King’s recollection of his childhood “is a fogged-out landscape from which occasional memories appear like isolated trees.”

One of the aims of this course is to develop reflective skills. Re-reading this book has highlighted that an understanding, of the brain and memory, will be important in developing better reflective skills.