On Breaking Book Formatting and Adverb Rules

Sharing My Daring Departure for My Most Recent Book

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By Carolyn Howard-Johnson



 

I am sharing an excerpt from the newest edition  of my The Frugal Editor not only to share the content with those who don’t want to read (or use as reference!) a full book on everything from grammar to style choices to front and backmatter possibilities, but also to share with you a departure I tried in that third edition of that book. My publisher and I titled them  “The Frugal Editor’s Extras” to set them apart from regular copy in the book. They include short pieces--everything from little memoir-like experiences that also serve as editing lessons to topics related to something I covered in the book (yes, like adverbs), but deserved a little...mmm...creative attention. Most of them are only one page long. This one is for authors who are adverse to trimming adverbs back as most experienced editors and academia’s MFA programs suggest. This one (the fifth in the book) tells how authors can make adverbs that might best be deleted work to an author’s advantage instead:

 

5. The Frugal Editor’s Extras

 

 


Remember the Reader’s Digest feature “Toward More Picturesque Speech?” [CJ1] Over the decades, this entertaining little piece of Americana caused many writers to fall in love with metaphors. Writers who want to liven up their copy can edit adverbs so they produce those much-loved figures of speech.

Metaphors and their kin, symbols and similes, are wonderful tools for helping writers with the often-heard “Show, don’t tell” mantra, but they can be tricky. I was speaking to the Small Publishers of North America (SPAN) in Atlanta when one of the writers in the audience asked if there was a site that would give him a list of good metaphors to improve  imagery in his writing. I told him that if there was, it would probably be a list of clichés or a list of what would fast become clichés once everyone started using them. That was before I knew this adverb trick which works better—much better—than any list ever could.

It’s a little trick that lets your search for adverbs make a sweet drink out of lemons. That is, they yield an opportunity for you come up with metaphors or similes. They prompt associations that allow you to find and insert flecks of solid gold into your copy. In the example we used earlier in this book, “She ran quickly,” you determine that the adverb is redundant. Running, by its nature, is quick. However, you still want more than quick. Ask yourself, quickly as what? You might come up with a comparison where you must use the words like or as to make the image come alive. If so, you’ve found a simile. But if you come up with a true metaphor—where the comparison of the image is evident without the like or as—you’ve found something better than gold. You’ve found a metaphor.


Note: You can do something similar with clichés by reworking them. Before you jettison something like "He was just small potatoes" from your copy, try substituting words in the offending phrase with something similar. One critique group I lead came up with phrases for small potatoes. Some were better. Some were worse. Some imparted similar meanings and some different: Small fry, excess produce, misshapen fruit, genetically flawed apples, rejected produce, overripe avocadoes, bruised tomatoes. You can see the list could get longer and longer and one of the alternatives might be something that would work lots better than a cliché that might prompt a gatekeeper to wonder about your ability to author a book.

Now, as much as I love well conceived metaphors and similes, I need to add a word of caution. I once saw an advertisement in Writer’s Digest where presumably an editor had red-penciled a metaphor that appeared on an author’s manuscript. It said, “You may want to reconsider this metaphor.” The reason? The metaphor was a stretch. Metaphors should be so integrated into the flow of the copy that the reader hardly notices them (unless they are intentionally used for humor). They should add to your readers’ pleasure or understanding rather than distract them. When writers fall in love with their own image-making skills, they might undermine their number-one goal—that of writing clearly and keeping the reader involved.

One of the advantages of editing adverbs—indeed any kind of systematic editing—is that you’ll begin to write more concise first drafts. The beauty of adverbs is that they can help you do that, but only if you let each one be your mentor—even if it means whacking the ones that don’t work. When you do, the gremlins, evil little guys that make it their business to foil authors’ efforts to produce professional work, might identify you as a proficient writer and move to greener fields.

 

MORE ABOUT TODAY’S #WRITERSONTHEMOVE CONTRIBUTOR



 

Carolyn Howard-Johnson is the author of the multi award-winning series of HowToDoItFrugally books for writers including USA Book News’ winner for The Frugal Book Promoter now in its third edition. An instructor for UCLA Extension's renowned Writers Program for nearly a decade, she believes in entering (and shouting out!) contests and anthologies as an excellent way to separate our writing from the hundreds of thousands of books that get published each year. Two of her favorite awards are Woman of the Year in Arts and Entertainment given by members of the California Legislature and “Women Who Make Life Happen,” given by the Pasadena Weekly newspaper. She is also an award-winning poet and novelist and she loves passing along the tricks of the trade she learned from marketing those so-called hard-to-promote genres. Learn more on her website at https://HowToDoItFrugally.com. Find all of the little “Editor’s Extras” by using the separate contents list in the front matter of her newest entry in her series, The Frugal Editor


1 comment:

Karen Cioffi said...

Carolyn, what helpful tips on how to morph adverbs into metaphors that are unique and work. I convey super speed while still staying within reality by using, "fast as a peregrine falcon" as it's the fastest bird (and animal) in the world. While in flight, it's diving speed can reach almost 200 miles per hour!

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