The Quinquennium

 

  

 

The second novella in the Quinquennium series, As It Was In The Beginning, is taking shape. It takes place three years before the events in book one, To Thee Is This World Given, over the week leading up to the “end.”

While To Thee Is This World Given was intended originally to be a stand alone novella, everyone who read it asked the same questions, “What happens next? Are you writing more?” My answer was always “They continue on” and “no.”

It took me awhile to put enough distance between myself and the effort it took to write To Thee Is This world Given, but I eventually got to the place where I agreed that each of the four characters in it deserved their own story and the world in which takes place deserved to be expanded, and so the Quinquennium was born.

The titles for books three through five are still to be decided but the stories themselves have already been plotted. Book three takes place one year after As it Was In The Beginning, and follows the male character from To Thee Is This World Given. Book four takes place one year before To Thee Is This World Given. It follows the young Amish man. And book five takes place fifty years later and follows the young girl, who is now approaching sixty years old.

The timeline: day one, As It Was In The Beginning; one year later, Book 3; two years later Book 4; three years later, To Thee is This World Given; fifty years later, Book 5.

Simple, vibrant, eye catching single-color covers that reflect the mood and theme of each book were chosen to create a unified look for the series. Double click on any of the covers to see it in greater detail. Each has an identical star field pattern and a white border.

 

“The First Draft of Anything is Shit”

firstdraft

I get ideas for stories all of a sudden out of nowhere and can see the scenes clearly in my mind’s eye before I ever attempt to write them (even months beforehand).

The idea for the To Thee is This World Given  came to me in March 2014. The next day at work I jotted down a brief outline on a yellow legal pad that would remain the same until the story was finished:

Two characters, a man and woman, meet on a road several years into a zombie apocalypse. They leave the road and go into the woods. They camp at the side of a stream where the woman tends the man’s wounds. They talk late into the night. The next morning they hike back to the road where they meet a third character, before parting for good.

The only  significant changes to my original concept were to make their relationship antagonistic (originally they had been much more chummy), to make their relationship with the third character friendly (originally it had been hostile), and to have the female character walk away from the male character (originally he had walked away from her).

While my stories may come quickly, the actual writing for me is not spontaneous. It’s the result of intense planning, outlining, reworking, refining, and even acting out. I frequently make the faces and perform the actions the characters are doing to figure out how to describe them and to make sure they actually work in real life. I also recite dialog out loud as I write to make sure it sounds like normal speech. All of this makes it a little embarrassing for me to write where other people can see and hear me.

It ended up taking me four and a half months to complete the novella’s 20,000 word first draft, and I ended up throwing out 99% of the text away in the second draft.

I started the actual writing the middle of April 2014. The first two lines I wrote were the first and last lines of the book — this is pretty typical for me, except that usually I start off with just the last sentence (I often can see the end of my stories before I can see their beginnings):

The First Line of To Thee is This World Given is The dead congregate; the last line is The living collide.

The only other text that stayed unchanged through all drafts was a paragraph of dialogue in which the female character is talking about the star Betelguese, the left hand of OrionI almost named  To Thee is This World Given, “The ninth brightest star” in honor of Betelguese. This paragraph is one of the most important for understanding the story:

Her voice was wistful, almost sad. “It rushed into existence and used up all of its fuel too fast. Just the blink of an eye in the lives of most stars. And right now its winds are crashing against everything in the galaxy, even us. And eventually it will explode outward and there will be nothing left. No star. No black hole. Just empty space. As if it had never been there at all.” Her eyes closed. “It’ll have had just a short, brilliant life that extinguished so much with it when it went.”

To Thee is This World Given is written in both third person objective and in medias resI wanted readers to experience the space between themselves and the characters in the same way and at the same time the characters experience the space between themselves. Third person objective and in medias res forces them to do so.

The reader is dropped immediately into the action and is never told what the characters think or feel, or how the characters got to where the story starts. They have to make that decision for  themselves, based on what the characters do and say (and fail to do and say). The reader is never told who is the good guy and who is the bad guy, who is the hero and who is the villain, who to root for and who to root against. Just like life.

The truth is that unless we are told, we never know what is going on in someone else’s head, and even then we have to take it on faith. The best we can do is pay close attention, but even then we often still get it wrong. How we decipher someone else usually says more about us than it does them. That’s a central theme of the book.

The slowest period of the entire writing process, which ended up taking me eight months to reach the final draft, plus another three months in editing, were the first six pages. Those six pages took me almost three weeks to finish, because I kept reworking what I had written the day before instead of moving on. So I got nowhere.

I was having a very hard time getting the voice right. It was driving me crazy.

The voice in third person objective is “silent.” There is no narrator, there is no “telling” at all. Everything must be “shown” through action, dialog, and description. In all other point of views the voice is obvious and can smooth over less elegant writing in the action and dialog. In third person objective, the action and dialog have to stand on their own, relying solely on the strength of the writing in each sentence. It requires tremendous discipline; it’s like a straight jacket, except that you are always fighting slipping into telling.

Additionally, by writing in medias res the story starts with no exposition, and especially early on, is in strict active voice; you just jump right into the action. The problem I was having was in not sounding like blocking, or like something written by a five year old.

(To this day, the first half of the first chapter remains the part of the book that I am the least happy with. I never could get it completely right).

In the end, I made a rule that the only thing I could read on a given day was what I was writing that day and that I could not re-read or rewrite anything I had written earlier. I finally began making progress.

I wrote every day from noon to 4 pm, longhand on yellow legal pads, and as I went along I created detailed outlines mapping out each chapter. In the third chapter, I realized that having the characters get along didn’t work, so I changed course going forward as if they had always not gotten along and stuck post-it notes on the early pages about what changes would have to be made in the second draft.

People are often surprised at how long it took me to write the first 20,000 words. The thing about a novella is that everything included has to pull its weight. Everything is Chekov’s gun. Every word has to count. Whereas the difficulty in writing 100,000 words is in having enough to say, with 20,000 words it is not saying more than enough. This was compounded by how tightly structured To Thee is This World Given is. On most days, at least half of my time was spent organizing and mapping out what I was going to write.

I didn’t keep a copy of the first draft. Every time I finished re-writing a corresponding section in the second draft, a handful of yellow pages was tossed into the recycling bin. At the end, a mountain of scribbled-on yellow pages that no one ever saw but me.

At least once a day I said, “God, this is garbage.”

Not getting demoralized was hard.

I couldn’t see how I would ever get anywhere close to being happy with the story.

But I had a little post it stuck on my desk reminding me that the first draft of anything is always shit. I had another ordering me to not edit as I wrote.

It’s better to press forward and throw it all away, than to stand still and have nothing to throw away. Ernest Hemingway threw away the first 3,000 words of

 The Sun Also Rises and re-wrote the ending of a A Farewell to Arms forty-seven times.

-k-

You can read about the themes in To Thee is This World Given, in my post  The Hardest Thing in Writing is Simply to Tell the Truth

Some of my thoughts on writing in general can be found here and here.

 

 

 

To Thee is This World Given turned one year old today

All week long Khel will be posting about how it came to be.

The first two posts, on being able to find the time to write  and the ideas behind the story  are already up. And over the next couple of days, the story of writing the first draft will be posted as well.

Also, from now until June 22nd, we are running a giveaway on Goodreads for five signed and numbered hardback editions of To Thee is This World Given.

There are no strings attached and you can enter for free at the link below. You can also read impressions and reactions to the novella from Goodreads’ reviewers by clicking the title link in the box below.

We are extremely proud of the fact that the number one response has been about the high quality of Khel’s prose (even by those who found fault with other elements).

Happy birthday little book. Here’s to many more.

Goodreads Book Giveaway

To Thee Is This World Given

by Khel Milam

Giveaway ends June 22, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

“The Hardest Thing in Writing is Simply to Tell the Truth”

The unifying theme behind To Thee is This World Given is that we are not an inherently selfish, callus, violent species. While I don’t believe we are inherently good, I do believe we inherently desire to be so, which is diametrically opposed to our supposedly sociopathic nature depicted by The Walking Dead and other books, movies, and television shows in the post-apocalyptic genre.

For the most part I believe we are basically a pretty decent species. After all, there is no other species on the planet willing to adopt the offspring of another, rear it as a family member, and do everything in its power to keep it safe and sound (especially the offspring of a species that used to eat them). That’s pretty exceptional when you think about it.

What I don’t believe is that we have to love each other. That’s unrealistic, even as goal. I don’t even believe we have to like each other, we just have to try tolerate each other, not harm each other, help each other if we can, and at the very least acknowledge that we’re all just struggling to stay afloat in our own way.

I tried to suggest this in To Thee is This World Given from the very beginning with a pair of quotes from Siddhartha and Charles Dickens:

“What is the appropriate behavior for a man or a woman in the midst of this world where each person is clinging to his or her piece of debris? What is the proper salutation between them as they pass each other in this flood?” Siddhartha

“It is required of every man…that the spirit within him should walk abroad among his fellow men, and travel far and wide, and if that spirit go not forth in life, it is condemned to do so after death. It is doomed to wander through the world and witness what it cannot share, but might have shared on earth, and turned to happiness.” Charles Dickens

In To Thee is This World Given, two-thirds of the character interaction is cooperative, and the two best adjusted characters are the two most cooperative ones. Additionally, basic human decency comes up in dialog scattered throughout the story and is shown in the “hobo code” that people use mark to the roads to let others know that lies ahead and where to find things like food, water, and shelter.

While I made up my own symbols, the road markings in the book were inspired by the actual hobo code of the 1930s. The fact that the real hobo code developed is, itself, a testament to human nature.

A second theme in the story is our fallibility in interpreting and understanding other people’s motives and personalities, and the fact we often deceive ourselves about our own. This is alluded to by the title itself.

To Thee is This World Given is comes from one of the most famous quotes in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story, Young Goodman Brown:

“Now faith is gone…[t]here is no good on earth; sin is but a name. Come devil, for to thee is world given.”

Young Goodman Brown centers around the title character’s shifting interpretations and opinions of his neighbors’ motives and personalities, as well as the reader’s own shifting interpretations and opinions of Goodman Brown’s motives and the reliability of his conclusions.

In the story, Goodman Brown’s neighbors are revealed to be hypocrites; however, the reader can’t be certain that the part of the story in which the reveal happens actually took place or not. It could have been a dream or a hallucination, for instance, and the only time the reader actually sees the neighbors undeniably in action, they behave the opposite of how they behaved in the dream-like reveal. So the reader must decide if the neighbors are hypocrites or if Goodman Brown is deceived. Because the story is written in third party objective and in medias res, the reader has nothing more to go on than what Goodman Brown sees, hears, and says.

But if you move beneath the superficial story, you realize there is only one character that is undeniably a hypocrite, and that is Goodman Brown. He is everything he condemns his neighbors of being, and everything he condemns them for doing, he does, himself.

The final theme in To Thee is This World Given is that we are our actions. There are no good or bad people, just good or bad actions. The difference between a hero and a villain is that the villain is honest and up front about doing bad things, while the hero creates elaborate excuses to justify doing bad things. Hero’s suffer from Goodman Brown syndrome.

This is why I did not give my characters’ name. Names are authorial and reader short cuts into character personalities — “Bubba” forms a completely different picture than “Allister,” for instance. Even common names influence one’s perceptions of a character — John tells a different story than Jack does. If a character doesn’t have a name, they can only be evaluated by their actions, which are either good, bad, or neutral, or more typically a hodge podge of all three

I also had the main characters address this theme directly when they argue about Superman and Lex Luther, and indirectly when they argue about the refusal of the leader of Britain’s south pole expedition to let his surviving men try to continue on to get help.

I think of my story as sort of a moebius circle. Every element can be traced back around itself to one of these themes, all of which are already inherently intertwined with each other to begin with. Each time you run your finger along the story’s edge you end up in deeper layer. There is the superficial story, and beneath this, a story about the fallibility of perceptions and expectations and conclusions and justifications, and then at the deepest level, there is a story about the world as it is today.

Plots to me are not the stories, to me they are just the way stories are made sensible to other people. The stories are the truths about the spaces between people, and between what we believe is the truth and what the truth really is.

 

-k-

You can read about my experiences writing the first draft, in my post The First Draft of Anything is Shit.

Some of my thoughts on writing in general can be found here and here.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding the Time to Write To Thee is This World Given

Virginia Wolf once said that one needs money and a room of one’s own to be able to write. But what one really needs is time. Money and a home are just the currency needed to purchase it.

Ever since graduating college, I had been trying to find a way to both support myself and have enough spare time to write.

In the 1990s, I lived in Manhattan, attended NYU’s Publishing Program, and worked in the editorial departments of various houses, hoping that by working in publishing I’d have a better chance of my manuscript being read.

But as you probably already know, it’s challenging to be able to write while working full time, especially if you don’t write in a heavily formulaic genre and you have to share 800 square feet with five people (publishing doesn’t pay so well). So, while all that time I had an “in,” I didn’t have a finished manuscript.

After a while the realization set in that the whole point of my working in the industry was moot and I ended up in law school (all but two of my roommates from that time also went to law school, of the two others, one stuck it out in the industry and one I have know idea).

I chose law because I had the grades, did well on the sample LSAT test, and wasn’t good enough at math to go to med school. My plan was to work for a few years, scrimp, and be able to buy an inexpensive house outright, which would free me from having to work so much that it would interfere with my writing.

What I didn’t know was (1) that I’d leave law school with student loans that rivaled most people’s mortgages; (2) that I’d have to work at least eighty hours a week at a firm; and (3) that the housing market would experience the worst inflation in history. So, as you can imagine I didn’t get much writing done.

During this period, the thought that I was running out of time and not doing what I was supposed to be doing became more and more urgent, until around 2006 or 2007, when it turned into an all encompassing preoccupation that didn’t let up until I actually began writing To Thee is This World Given . I would sit at my desk every night researching cases and typing memos, thinking, “I am not supposed to be doing this,” over and over and over.

Then something happened. It would end up providing me with enough money to live off of for about a year and half without having to work.

In March 2014 I was offered a settlement from my firm, and so I had a decision to make:  refuse the money and continue working for an employer I’d grown to hate; take the money, be responsible, and find another job right away; or take the money, be irresponsible, and begin writing, knowing that the longer I remained unemployed the harder it would be for me to find another job.

I chose to write.

And I wrote every day, four to six hours a day, for nine months. As soon as I started writing, I felt for the first time in my life that finally I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing. For the first time, I felt absolutely content.

It’s been two years since I began To Thee is World Given  and one year since it was released, and now I’m back to where I was before  trying to figure out how to have both enough money to live and enough time to write. But I’m no longer frightened by an insecure future, and I look at the problem now as finding enough time to work, not finding enough time to write.

You can read about my experiences writing the first draft of To Thee is This World Given, here.

 

You can read about the themes in To Thee is World Given, here

Some of my thoughts on writing in general can be found here and here.

-k-

 

 

The Science of Writing Slowly

When I wrote To Thee is This World Given, both my first and second drafts were written longhand on yellow legal pads, and even as I typed the third draft, every iteration of each reworked sentence and paragraph was handwritten on a combination of legal pads and post-it notes. The revisions to the fourth through the tenth, and final, draft were also longhand changes scribbled between the lines of the printed manuscripts.

I always assumed that my preference for longhand was just an old-school crutch, because my writing always seems to have a clarity that my typing does not.

But it turns out that writing slowly actually does improve the quality of one’s writing. The results of a study in the British Journal of Psychology, released in January, showed that participants who were forced to slow down their writing by typing with only one hand wrote with greater sophistication than those who were allowed to type quickly with both hands.

Typing can be too fluent or too fast, and can actually impair the writing process….It seems that what we write is a product of the interactions between our thoughts and the tools we use to express them.

[S]lowing down participants’ typing by asking them to use only one hand, allowed more time for internal word search, resulting in a larger variety of words. Fast typists may have simply written the first word that came to mind.

Another study released in 2011 found that writing by hand strengthens the learning process, while typing impairs it. 

The process of reading and writing involves a number of senses….When writing by hand, our brain receives feedback from our motor actions, together with the sensation of touching a pencil and paper. These kinds of feedback are significantly different from those we receive when touching and typing on a keyboard.

Our bodies are designed to interact with the world which surrounds us. We are living creatures, geared toward using physical objects — be it a book, a keyboard or a pen — to perform certain tasks.

For myself, I’m able to see inconsistencies and weaknesses in my writing more vividly when I write by hand, and they bother me more intensely, to the point I that can’t ignore them, then when I type.

One thing I’ve noticed in works by the indie authors that I have read, both fiction and non-fiction, is a hastiness. Even when the writing and editing are sound there is a hasty, rushed quality to it as if the author is not fully aware of what he or she has written.

It may be that the real difference between great authors and ordinary writers is not just innate talent, but the speed and haste with which they write.

Consider this quote from Hemingway:

Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do?

Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms, the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied.

Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had stumped you?

Hemingway: Getting the words right.

Ernest Hemingway, The Paris Review, Interview, 1956

Or this one from Faulkner:

Faulkner: Since none of my work has met my own standards, I must judge it on the basis of that one which caused me the most grief and anguish.

Interviewer: What work is that?

Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury. I wrote it five separate times, trying to tell the story, to rid myself of the dream which would continue to anguish me until I did.

William FaulknerThe Paris Review, Interview, 1956

Or this one from Renard:

Style means the right word. The rest matters little.

Jules Renard

Or even this famous one from Twain:

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.

Mark Twain

If you would like to improve your writing just slow down.

You might also like my posts: A Few Thoughts on Writing, The First Draft of Anything is Shit, and The Hardest Thing to Do is Simply Write the Truth.

-k-

 

 

 

A Few Thoughts on Writing

Most advice for writers online seems to impart information the adviser does not truly understand, advice unable to capture the nuance and complexity of writing (and reading).

The concept that is probably the most misunderstood and misused is “showing vs telling,” followed by the disdain of adverbs.

The best example of “showing” in English literature is Ernest Hemingway’s short story Hills Like White Elephants.  Because it is written in strict 3rd Person Objective, the reader only sees and hears what a camera would see and hear:

The woman brought two glasses of beer and two felt pads. She put the felt pads and the beer glass on the table and looked at the man and the girl. The girl was looking off at the line of hills. They were white in the sun and the country was brown and dry.

“They look like white elephants,” she said.

“I’ve never seen one,” the man drank his beer.

“No, You wouldn’t have.”

Some of the best examples of “telling” can be found in fiction for children and young adults. If you’ve read the Harry Potter books, you’ve read thousands of pages of examples of “telling.” Here is an example:

Harry had taken up his place at wizard school, where he and his scar were famous … but now the school year was over, and he was back with the Dursleys for the summer, back to being treated like a dog that had rolled in something smelly. The Dursleys hadn’t even remembered that today happened to be Harry’s twelfth birthday. Of course, his hopes hadn’t been high… .

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. J. K. Rowling.

Variations of the following are provided all over the web as an example of the sin of “telling:” She was cold.

The prescription offered to correct this mistake, transforming it from “telling” to “showing,” is always along the lines of: “The snow swirled around her. She blew on her hands then pulled her scarf tighter around her neck.”

Both are examples of scene setting description that do not tell you anything about the character’s thoughts and feelings, nor advance the plot.  And because they do not function as either character or plot development, that the first tells what the second shows, is irrelevant with regards to the prescription against “telling.”

The only meaningful difference between these two examples is that the first is a very efficient description and the second is a less efficient description.

Here is another example from Hills Like White Elephants:

The American and the girl with him sat at a table in the shade, outside the building. It was very hot….

You’ll notice that Hemingway comes right out and tells you it is very hot. In the nearly 100 years that this story has been subjected to literary criticism, this sentence has never been flagged as “telling,” because it tells you nothing about the characters and doesn’t give away the story. The title does that.

A succinct, efficient description is all that is needed here, because the weather is not the point. Hemingway could delete this sentence and it would have no effect on the story. If the temperature was to marry the mood of the characters, it would be cold.

If Hemingway had spent 3-4 sentences establishing that it was hot, showing that it was hot, the reader would have been lead to believe that the temperature was important, because the time spent on detail is how an author clues the reader into what matters and what doesn’t.

Another example from Hills Like White Elephants:

They sat down at the table and the girl looked across at the hills on the dry side of the valley and the man looked at her and at the table.

This is perhaps the most perfect example of “showing” you will ever find. It is so perfect, the reader may not even pick up on the significance of this scene until after having read the entire story.

Many online writing gurus implore writers to more write elaborate, lengthy descriptions, full of novel metaphors, in order to avoid “telling.” But unless you are a very talented writer, following this advice will usually only serve to draw attention to your writing, which for me at least, is a much greater sin than “telling.” It risks annoying, distracting, or boring the reader, especially if you are composing metaphors. Metaphors are extremely hard to get right and extremely easy to get wrong, and everyone always assumes that they get them right, but they don’t, and readers pay the price.

How elaborate a description should be, whether you set the scene efficiently or inefficiently, shouldn’t be determined by an arbitrary rule about showing and telling (and it is arbitrary–all dialog is “showing;” if a character says “I’m cold” it does not count as “telling”). The amount of detail provided should be based solely on the needs of the story both at that moment and as a whole. And your actual skill as a writer.

I find that elaborate descriptions are best left to exceptional writers, and that encouraging writers, in general, to be unnecessarily verbose, does their writing more harm than good.

Most writers, and surely all readers, would be better served by Elmore Leonard’s tenth rule on writing: “If is sounds like writing, rewrite it,” than they would by having two extra sentences added to convey that a particular character was cold, so as to avoid the appearance of “telling.” Readers don’t want to be constantly reminded that they are reading as they read.

I’m not saying that “She was cold” is necessarily better than “The snow swirled around her. She blew on her hands then pulled her scarf tighter around her neck;” I’m saying that “The snow swirled around her. She blew on her hands then pulled her scarf tighter around her neck” is not necessarily better than “She was cold”. It is artificial to compare them out of context, which is how they are always compared by the writing gurus.

I would probably opt for just “the snow swirled around her.” From that it is obvious she is cold, the reader learns it is snowing, and unless her being gloveless is important, and unless the scarf will prove important later on, as a reader, I don’t care. It’s detail I don’t need. My mind provided her with the appropriate attire as soon as I learned she was outside in the snow.

Writers need to evaluate our writing as a reader would; ask ourselves: If I read this in a book I didn’t write, would I like it? Would I even care? We also must trust our readers, have faith that their imaginations will be able to bring our stories to life. While no reader wants to have to play games figuring out how things look, at the same time, they don’t want the way things look to interfere with their enjoyment of the story itself. A reader’s mind will fill the void.

The following paragraph is, for me, the most beautiful in the English language. I am honest enough with myself to know that it would take me six months to write even a shadow of it. But it provides a good rule of thumb for evaluating elaborate descriptions: the more elaborate the description, the greater the demand that the description be beautiful, and that it be used primarily to establish tone and subtext, to create an emotional response in the reader:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, on the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

The last paragraph of James Joyce’s “The Dead”

(The last sentence of that paragraph surely ranks with the best poetry ever written).

You’ll notice Joyce had no fear of adverbs. I’m not sure when or how the war against adverbs began. I know Steven King is a champion of the cause to rid the world of adverbs, somewhat disingenuously given the frequency of adverbs in his own writing.

My guess is that the same misunderstanding about “showing vs telling” gave birth to it. Adverbs can certainly be misused, but they are simply another form of efficient description. And as the above excerpt shows, they’re critical to creating a sentence’s cadence and tone.

Even Hemingway, the most famous Minimalist writer of all time, used adverbs freely. His writing, like all Minimalists, is absolutely efficient, but his sentences are beautiful nonetheless:

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

 A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemmingway

Not only did he use adverbs liberally here, he repeatedly uses one of the most reviled adverbs of all: very. And he does so with great success, because no sentence ever written has been harmed by making it more pleasing to the ear, which is why the very’s are there.

The beauty of any sentence comes always from its cadence, and cadence is created primarily by adverbs and the word “and” (and commas too — they are the punctuational equivalent of “and,” but multiple commas in a short stretch can sometimes become confusing). Many misunderstand this, I think, assuming that the beauty comes from the words. There is not a single fifty-cent word in either Joyce’s paragraph or in Hemingway’s. They both used everyday language. They just used everyday language in exceptional ways.

Far more important than showing or telling or adverbs is being conscious of what you are doing when you write and why you are doing it and what you hope it will achieve. You should be able to explain why you made the choices you did — every one of them. If you can’t explain it, you should probably cut it.

A useful tool for both writers and reviewers is LiteraryDevices. net . It has definitions and examples of the all of the various types devices employed and available to writers.

[T]he term Literary Devices refers to the typical structures used by writers in their works to convey his or her message(s) in a simple manner to his or her readers.  When employed properly, the different literary devices help readers to appreciate, interpret and analyze a literary work.

Literary Elements have an inherent existence in a literary piece and are extensively employed by writers to develop a literary piece e.g. plot, setting, narrative structure, characters, mood, theme, moral etc. Writers simply cannot create their desired works without including Literary Elements in a thoroughly professional manner.

Literary Techniques, on the contrary, are structures, usually words or phrases, in literary texts that writers employ to achieve not merely artistic ends, but also give readers a greater understanding and appreciation of their literary works. Examples are:  metaphor, simile, alliteration, hyperbole, allegory etc.

In contrast to literary elements, literary techniques are not an unavoidable aspect of literary works.

I’ll leave you with the best refutation of the assertion that adverbs weaken sentences that there is:

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

The last line of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

Verbs were meant to be modified and they were meant to be modified by adverbs.

-k-