So far I’ve stayed away from tips on editing prose and focused on the larger issues of plot, developing characters and story structure. But this week, because I’ve been doing just this for two days, I want to focus on adjectives and adverbs, those pesky words that end in ‘ly’.
Adverbs and adjectives can bloat your prose and slow the pacing to a craw if you don’t keep a strict handle on them. They give the impression of giving your prose a lofty tone, yet they add very little to the content. And when overdone, they make the read difficult.
For the past two days I’ve performed an exercise on my work-in-progress. I’ve done a search on “ly “(ly plus a space.) So I’m going through the entire document evaluating each word that ends in ly to see if I can get rid of it, without effecting the meaning.
I’ve found that I have overused a number of words: finally, simply, suddenly, slightly, only, perfectly, really, etc.
And what I’ve found is that, 90% of the time when I delete these words, the prose becomes stronger, flows better. I wish I could stop myself from putting them there in the first place, but I can’t for some reason. But thank God for a text editor that can do a search. The difference is astounding (I first typed ‘truly astounding’, but then realized I was doing it again… And of course the word ‘truly’ adds nothing to the sentence.)
So a very simple way to improve your prose is to cut adjectives and adverbs to the bone, and cutting most of the words that end in ‘ly’ is a good start.
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