Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Adverbs and Prepositions

For some years, you have waged a contentious battle with the adverb, in particular those ending in –ly.  As things now stand, you are a bit ahead on points, devoting at least one revision pass to tracking down any you may have used, then finding ways to cure it, either by your favorite approach, the more active verb that needs no adverbial support into the narrative at hand.  Sometimes curing an adverb isn’t so easy. Depending on how the material sounds when you read it aloud, you might go so far as to allow the adverb to remain.

This is all well and good, thinking as you do of adverbs the way a gardener might think of a gopher, but you do have to admit that your dislike for this part of speech has had a major effect on the way your style emerges, which is your way of admitting that the adverb cannot be set aside as a bad guy and have the matter end right there. 

It would also be nice to think your early-draft writing style has evolved from its excessive use of adverb because you are finding less of them as you undertake revision, but you are wary of taking too much assurance from such subjective appearances.  Right now, your working approach is to go at the first draft as though you were in some contest with time, wanting to get the information down with as little thought as possible, suggestive of what individuals with more belief in “other worlds,” or “the other side” than you by far would call “automatic writing.”

In some ways, you are haunted by the adverb even when you are at pains not to use it, or to be as sparing as possible.  Your most significant objection to the adverb is its clunky sound, an unpleasant noise made even more objectionable when two of them are thrown into a sentence.

Your relationship with the preposition is on more comfortable grounds.  The preposition is a linking word, often used with nouns and pronouns, sometimes in connection with phrases, which is where the grounds grow less comfortable because some instances of prepositional phrases involve adverbs.

“Don’t screw around,” is a sentence that puts the preposition to noble use, the subject of the sentence being the unspoken-but-understood you.  Prepositions have a comfortable relationship with what used to be referred to as the f-word, but which has made its way into the language, in particular tandem with prepositions.  Thus fuck around, fuck with, fuck over, fuck up, and that useful, descriptive noun, fuck-up.

Your favorite preposition is “through” because it is important to you in fiction to take your characters through experiences rather than around, over, under, or about.  If you are “in” a story, you are, indeed, somewhere, but if you have been through a story, you have been on the dramatic equivalent of the E-ticket at Disney World; you have a history of events, associations, responses, perhaps even agendas.  You can trust characters who have been through events; they have been shaped, done to, pounded as though a dough for some imaginative puff pastry or no-nonsense loaf of bread.   

Of course you are in part talking about yourself when you speak of having been through things, but when you begin thinking about your own experiences in terms of how useful they might be for you when you are composing fiction or nonfiction, you need some time to consider the provenance of your experiences.  How many of them were real?  How many have you read in the works of other writers?  How many were wish-fulfillment fantasy?  They all seem real enough, which brings the problem home –to use another fine preposition—before you.  By bringing yourself and your characters through situations, their actual occurrence stands a greater chance of convincing others of their authenticity, at which point your invention may well become someone’s reality, as so many inventions of so many other writers have become yours.

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