The Runner

Day Eight: Death to Adverbs

Today’s Prompt: Go to a local café, park, or public place and write a piece inspired by something you see. Get detailed: leave no nuance behind.

Today’s twist: write an adverb-free post. If you’d rather not write a new post, revisit and edit a previous one: excise your adverbs and replace them with strong, precise verbs.

— — — — —

I’m beginning to believe what my grandmother once said to me in fit of pique when I was 8 years old, that I’m just a “contrarian”. At least as it relates to strict rules of writing and grammar. Like this exercise, removing adverbs, showing not telling. How incredibly irritating. (Yes, that’s telling, not showing. I know. I get it. I don’t care.) Rules that seem to have no purpose other than to be a rule and have the effect of making my written voice stilted, embroidered with unnecessary detail and old-fashioned make me want to stab something.

I’ve worked rather hard to keep my written voice in line with my spoken voice. I want my writing to speak in ink or pixels as my lips and vocal chords do. That means that some of the rigid grammar rules get roughed up on occasion in my writing. But at least no one can reasonably draw the conclusion from my written word that I speak like a Victorian dictionary.

And, yes, I know the maxim that you must learn and master the rules before you have license to break them. B. S.

There is a place for formal, rule-following in writing. I’m careful to do so in my professional communications and reports, analyses and opinions. But when writing of life, especially my life, I don’t want people to focus on my grammar proficiency. I want folks to get my drift right away and come with me on the journey. For me, colloquial phrases, easy (if imperfect) grammar are the essential tools.

With that little temper tantrum over, however, I’ll give it a shot. I may not succeed in excising all adverbs, but I’ll try to show you something, rather than tell you about it.

— — — — —

I have to stop myself from chortling out loud every time I see him. But I can’t keep from silent giggles when no one can see. I don’t know him, don’t even know his name. But I watch for him every day, smiling every time he comes into view.

Face alight with energy and concentration, he runs as if stung by angry bees from his car to the front door of the office building every day. Yet his elated jounces shout to the world: “I’m not late, just happy!” A wild shock of sandy hair flips hither and yon on his forehead with every step. Briefcase and coffee mug held out from his body to avoid bumps and spills, he gambols, seemingly care-free, despite his speed. This awkward gait doesn’t make him clumsy. Indeed, I’ve often admired his balance over icy pavement, marveled at his arrival without a single drop spilled. Loose-jointed, rolling slightly from side to side, yet steady, he pelts across the parking lot as if treasure awaits him at his desk.

Those thirty seconds of observation every mid-morning bring me a tiny moment of levity and mystery. Why does he run? What is he thinking about with such energy? Would he mind that I think he’s hilarious in his morning commute?

A few minutes investigation would likely reveal his name, department and boss. I could find him and ask him. But that would spoil the mystery, steal the tiny moment of anonymous fun from my day. Instead, I’ll just keep wondering, filling in the blanks with my own wild speculation and enjoy the fun.

— — — — —

So, I was right. It’s full of adverbs. I think that’s what description is for me. I may never succeed at the type of fictional prose advocated by this rule of style. But I don’t think I’ll mourn that loss to deeply.

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