Long Live Adverbs: An Ode to Rebellious Writers

Writersdontcry Special Announcement: Susan J. Morris has Writers Don't Cry programming as an Industry Insider Guest of Honor at GenCon this year. Click here for her schedule.

DEmoticow Book Hunteath to adverbs! Kill all sentence fragments! Eliminate that scoundrel, passive voice! When I went searching the internet for the world’s most important writing rules, I came up with a can full of assault worms primed for combat. There are, it appears, a hundred thousand ways to not write a book. And that number grows with every book put to print, committing more newly minted clichés to the pile of the must-be-burned.

I’m not going to lie: it was a little boggling, trying to keep it all in my head. So I started to write it down--and around page forty-five or so, quickly came to the conclusion that it was hopeless. What writer could hope to write a book that adhered to every last literary law? And if that magical writer managed her Sisyphean task, how would she ever write another, different from the first? It seemed easier to write an unbook, breaking all the rules, than a perfectly proper book!

Fortunately, writers are not known for coloring between the lines. As a breed, writers delight in breaking rules, each having their own favorites to break, and taking a fierce joy in making things work when they’re not supposed to. And with good reason! After all, isn’t that the definition of magic? But, of course, breaking rules takes its own kind of skill—as if you’re going to break a rule, the effect had better be superior. Here are just a few of the ways I’ve seen writers successfully break the rules.

An Addled State of Mind

Ah, passive voice! The bane of editors, condemned by the masses, and feared by writers everywhere, it seeps in through the cracks in the prose, whenever a sentence harbors ambitions of proving dramatic. And it’s no surprise why: some of the most famous lines in history are in passive voice. “Now is the winter of our discontent / Made glorious summer by this sun of York.” Rrawr, am I right? But just because it can be hot, doesn’t mean it’s always hot.

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