Thursday, December 30, 2010

Those Pesky -ly words

Did you know the -ly words (also known as empty adverbs) are listed as one of the top ten most avoidable mistakes that will get your manuscript thrown out by a prospective editor or agent? The reason I bring this up is because I've been noticing A LOT of them in my current WIP. I realize I'm still only on edit #1, but holy cow (and no, holy does not count!) there are a ton of them suckers. Quietly, softly, quickly, blah blah blah. It really amazes me how fast they suck the enjoyment out of a scene. She touched his face softly. Really? I think I may go throw up loudly. Do you mind? No? Good.

I want to fix them right now! There's a small problem with that, though. I'm over half way done with my edit. It will take all of the motivation I have (which is a complete surprise, so I'm not willing to do anything to comprimise it) and toss it out the window to start from square one here.

So, I have a plan, and you may want to do this with your own WIP. That is, assuming you are at the edit phase of the story. WHEN I finish with what I'm trying to do (which is clean the story up in general and fill plot holes) I'm going to go back to the beginning and I'm going to hunt down every last one of those little plot parasites. Because that's exactly what they are. They're worse than weeds, and the only way to fix the problem is to kill them. You can call me Haley Jo, -ly Hunter! Well... maybe I could use a little more work on the title.

But how do you fix this problem? What can you do to get rid of all those pesky -ly empty adverb words? Here's an example of how you can do it:

He pulled her into his arms and kissed her hungrily.

That's the sentence I wrote the first time around. I have to be able to say the same thing without telling, using passive voice, or that (bleh) -ly word hanging there at the end, poisoning the whole thing.

First of all, how is someone kissed hungrily? What exactly does it mean? Better yet, what does it look like? Feel like? It could look something like:

He pulled her into his arms, his full lips crashing down onto hers, molding them against his as he tasted her sweetness on his tongue.

Too corny?

On the bright side, that nasty -ly word is gone and this sentence gives you so much more than the last. Getting rid of 90% of those words, might get me to my 70k goal alone. I just have to be careful. If I get rid of too many of them, the story might become a little wordy. (EEK!) And no one (me) wants that.


  1. They can be difficult to deal with, that is for sure. It's one of the things I really noticed when I was in a critique group only a couple of the members didn't appreciate the comments about their overuse of -ly words. One had 3 in a row and 5 in one paragraph and he didn't see how that could be even a slight problem. I don't mind them sometimes but there is a limit. I have a big issue with the word "just" it just wants to be everywhere and even when I knowingly limit myself, I still seem to use it too often. That's what edits are for, right?

  2. Absolutely! There are so many better ways to describe what's happening than just slapping ly at the end of it! Thanks for the input!


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