“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
-Stephen King, On Writing
“Her lips trembled, and so did his. It was never known which lips were the first to move towards the other lips; but they kissed tremblingly, and then they moved apart.”
– George Elliot, Middlemarch
Man, that is one tepid love scene. But my intention today is not to poke fun at George Elliot, for which I’m sure I’d be roundly vilified and spat upon, but rather to point out the use of a particular word, a blatant adverb that if used by an author less beloved and admired than Elliot would certainly lead to mass occurrences of vilification and spit. Tremblingly? Personally, I’m all for it. I say, hurrah, George Elliot, for embracing that much maligned part of speech. On the pages leading up to that impassioned peck we also get: hastily, fervidly, insistently, doubtfully, daringly.
I’ve read many an incensed diatribe against the word ‘suddenly’. Many self-appointed advisors in the art of writing believe it should be stricken from the English language. I’ve also read “The Winter of Our Discontent” by John Steinbeck, which is absolutely littered with ‘suddenly.’ It was with great glee that I discovered this inexplicable lapse on the part of a great writer, because I am an unrepentant advocate of adverbs. Though I may stand alone, I believe that the million or so words in the English language represent a treasure trove of delight, surprise and opportunity, and adverbs and adjectives are part of that. Okay, I do admit that not every noun needs or even benefits from modification and that yes, the perfect verb will stand quite nicely on its own. But damn.
This blog was actually inspired by a rather reckless connoisseur and manufacturer of adverbs, one Arthur Upfield, who wrote mysteries in the 40s. The adverb that inspired my deepest admiration was “crouchingly”. Just opening the book now I see ‘flashingly, wonderingly and admiringly’ all on one page. Sure, the author probably didn’t intend the response he got from me, one of sudden laughter in the middle of tension filled scenes, but a certain liberality and flair with language delights my soul and makes me feel giddy, like a drunken poet on open mic/ dollar pint night.
In the somber light of a rewrite, most of these lovelies suffer the wrath of the delete key, but I never try very hard to stop them from flowing onto the page if flow they must, for I am not a dam but a conduit, a sluice, a salmon ladder and I struggle to say things that push me to the edge of my skill with language and beyond, to exhaust words and abuse grammar and maybe that’s why my writing goes through such frequent periods of, shall we say, awkwardness? Sometimes it’s all I can do to stay afloat on the river of words, and I grab onto to adverbs and adjectives like half-inflated water wings in a sinking dingy. My only hope is to survive the rapids so that I can go back and mold the thing, whatever it is, into something that flows, fervidly, insistently, doubtfully, daringly.