Ninja Writers Academy: Upgrading Adverbs

Ninja Writer Academy is a weekly series. Every Saturday morning, I post a lesson here. You can do the work, then come share it on our Facebook group. I’ll be on Facebook on Sunday for Office Hours so we can discuss the lesson, or anything else writing related. If you’d like to join the Academy and get an email on Saturday with a link to the lesson, plus notification when Office Hours start, Click Here.

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The -ly Assignment

Ninja Writers Academy-Upgrading AdverbsThe -ly Assignment

I thought that we’d talk about a technical aspect of writing this week. Adverbs.

You know adverbs, right? Those pesky -ly verb-describing words that are so easy to use and so often overused. They’re too easy.

She moved quickly.

He yelled loudly.

Mary believed strongly that–

Frank doubled over miserably.

Sometimes these adverbs are okay, even necessary. But lots of the time, they’re cop outs. They are simple words you use instead of opening up a scene and letting the reader in more deeply. Or they are weak words you use instead of finding the right strong word.

It can be as simple as: She ran.

Or: She bolted. She sped. She jerked. She slid.

He yelled loudly? Is there another way? He yelled, just that, is stronger.

If you need more, describe the tone of his voice.

He yelled, his voice raising in a crescendo to a pitch only dogs could hear.

Or describe the effect his yelling has on the person he’s yelling at.

He yelled and she froze, like a deer in the headlights.

For this week’s homework, I’d love for you to do a search through your manuscript for “ly” and see what comes up. Pick an example and see how you can do better.

My Turn

I’m working on edits for a story called WASTED right now. When I did a search for “ly” I actually found the exact same example as I used above. “He stopped abruptly.” Let’s see what I can do.

When he pushed through the last of the short, shrubby trees, though, he stopped abruptly. There was a fire in the pit. The clearing was already occupied by Smith’s only true homeless person. Sandy the Sketch. That was what his mother used to call him when he asked her for money outside the grocery store. She always gave him a dollar.

In this scene, Noah, who is fourteen, has run away from his grandmother’s house. He goes to a clearing in the mountains where kids in his little Nevada town go to party or just hang out and get stoned. He expects to be alone there, but he stumbles on his community’s only homeless man smoking meth.

So, what’s going on with him when he stops abruptly?

He’s surprised, thrown off balance. His anger is cut by concern for his own safety, when he finds himself all of a sudden alone in a remote, isolated place, with someone who may or may not be dangerous to him.

When he pushed through the last of the short, shrubby trees, though, he stopped like he’d come up against an invisible wall. There was a fire in the pit. The clearing was already occupied by Smith’s only true homeless person. Sandy the Sketch. That was what his mother used to call him when he asked her for money outside the grocery store. She always gave him a dollar.

I like that. It highlights the problem that Noah’s having at the beginning of his story–nearly everything is out of his control. The idea of an invisible wall evokes the idea that there isn’t anywhere for Noah to hide. he can’t stop Sandy from seeing him and he can’t control what Sandy might do now that Noah has shown up.

I think I can do better though.

When he pushed through the last of the short, shrubby trees, though, he slid to a stop and then fell on his ass when a branch swung back and smacked him in the chest. There was a fire in the pit. The clearing was already occupied by Smith’s only true homeless person. Sandy the Sketch. That was what his mother used to call him when he asked her for money outside the grocery store. She always gave him a dollar.

I like this one, too. Maybe even more. It’s physical. It shows that seeing Sandy threw Noah physically off balance. It makes him feel stupid in front of this man who he isn’t sure how to behave with. It shows the reader that Noah is a little clumsy and not quite comfortable in his own skin, which is something pretty common for boys his age. This is my fix.

Your Turn

Here’s your homework this weekend, Ninja!

Are you in this week? Leave a comment here and let me know. Ninja Writers are ALL about the big A word: Accountability. Post here that you’re going to be part of the Academy this week, then do it, Ninja.

Search your manuscript for ‘ly’ adverbs. Pick at least one and make the writing stronger.

Come by Facebook and tell us about your MC’s clan. I’ll be there tomorrow (Sunday) at noon PST for office hours so you can ask any questions you might have.

Please share this post on Facebook, Twitter, or Pinterest, and spread the word about the Ninja Academy.

If you haven’t joined the Academy yet, you can click here to do that. It’s totally free–when you sign up, I’ll send you a link every week to the Academy post and an invitation to my Sunday office hours.

If you want some extra accountability for your Academy work, check out the Ninja Writers Kick-in-the-Butt Crew. It’ll help you get it done.

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4 Comments

  1. I’m in! I’ve been doing this all well on my manuscript. I will post what I’m working on right now and make it better