Paula wonders why we should avoid adverbs and clichés.
I read an interesting, and somewhat eyebrow raising, article this week by a writer who claimed we shouldn’t tie ourselves in knots over not using adverbs, or clichés. Her argument was that we’re not in the business of recreating our language.
All languages, she maintained, are full of clichés; they are what people use and understand, so why should we avoid them in our stories and/or agonise over trying to create new ones – which often end up sounding ridiculously laboured and ‘invented’ anyway.
Similarly, why shouldn’t we use adverbs? They are part of the richness of our language, so why should we remove them? Her comment was, ‘Where is the space for creativity when you limit the number of paints in the box?’
Publishers, she claims, are looking for stories that will appeal to people. Ordinary people. Not literary critics or readers of highbrow stuff (because these kind of readers are well outnumbered by Mr. or Ms. Average Reader). Publishing is a business and publishers want to make money out of us. They’re involved in manufacturing, marketing, sales, and distribution. So we shouldn’t be writing for them, or even for their editors, all of whom have their own individual, and different, ideas about words they like and words they don’t, etc. It seems to be these editors, and the writing tutors who slavishly follow them, who have created the mass of ‘rules’ that we writers are supposed to follow. If we followed them all, we’d end up writing nothing more interesting than a list of ingredients found on the back of a cereal packet. Or we’d be so frightened of doing ‘something wrong’ that we wouldn’t write anything at all.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t follow the norms of GPS (grammar, punctuation, and spelling), but we should be creating stories that people want to read, whether those stories mirror their own lives, or provide some escapism from their lives. And if those stories include adverbs and clichés with which people are already familiar, then why not use them? We should be writing for the people who want to read our work, and not to accommodate the whims of a single agent or editor.
I’ve summarised the article here, but it certainly made me think! I know we have to get past the ‘gatekeepers’ in the publishing world, but is it time those gatekeepers became more flexible (and stopped creating their own rules)?