A to Z Challenge 2013

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

The Dreaded "ly", Dialogue, and Writing Better

I had an epiphany during lunch. You see, I'm one of those terrible writers who use words ending in "ly" in all the wrong places. Like this:

"That was the greatest moment of my life", she said happily."

Yes, its attrocious, and having been told about it recently, I know I shouldn't do it. But I hadn't yet had the opportunity to "really" learn the lesson. Today I was sitting at lunch reading Angels and Demons by Dan Brown (a great book I'm enjoying, by the way), and I started paying attention to how the words were structured. I was still reading along, still following what was there, but it was the first time I really SAW how writing should be done. I know I can be blockheaded at times, but wow. I don't know how it is that I have missed what is so obvious before, but all of a sudden I started seeing so many things I could be doing better.

Another thing I struggle with is dialogue. I find myself too often trying to come up with a dozen ways to say someone is talking rather than showing them talking. Like so:

"It's about time you got to this", he said.

"Hey, I was working on it as fast as possible", she replied.

"Yeah, well your work isn't fast enough", he yelled.

Yep, pretty boring writing. It was rather nice then, to notice how real dialogue SHOULD be described rather than my usual attempts. That's not to say that suddenly I'm going to be able to sit down and fix all of my little foibles. But at least for a moment, I was seeing structure and flow in a way I hadn't before. I have a much better grasp now on what has previously eluded me. With a little work and practice, I'll be able to go home today and weave it into my current projects. I'm not promising of course that an "ly" won't slip in there somewhere. But hey, it's a start.

Have you had moments of insight like this where the lightbulb finally shines?


T. Anne said...

I don't think it's a crime to use it on occasion. But it's best you see the folly of your ways. BTW, I think every writer is guilty to an extent.

Krista Phillips said...

I have decided to view LY word deletions as a CHALLENGE. What can I replace it with?

"That was the greatest moment of my life." Try as she may, she could stop her lips from forming a big, cheesy grin. It was her day, and she could smile as silly as she wanted to, dad gum it.

As far as epiphanies.... did you know that in my 87000 word manuscript that I used the word WAS over 1400 times! That's like 1.6% of my words!

I'm still trying to decide what's "normal" I mean, we have to use the word was sometimes. I know we need active verbs, but a story with no was's and all active verbs would get, uh, confusing and overwhelming I think

Weronika said...

Eric, I'm glad to hear that you had an epiphany of that sort! :) It's always good to spot things like that--I've noticed random tidbits as I read (constantly!) and I tend to fall into a pattern of mimicking a writer until that becomes a burdening habit of its own.

Good luck with the fixing/practice. I'm sure you'll figure it out.

Nisa said...

I'm one of those people that has to know the "why" of it. What makes adverbs so bad? Seriously? I'm going to research that. Someday... It's on my list! Awesome that you identify and are ready to fix though. I'm sure it will take me an eternity alone to learn how to stop using ly let alone all my other issues. ;)

Kate said...

I usually find myself stumbling over all the so-called mistakes in published novels and wondering how come they're allowed to use them and I'm not?

beth said...

Heh--I love -ly, too!

One thing that helped me: I used word to replace all the -ly with bold, italics, and red -ly. So happily looked like happily. That helped me to see it easier--especially to see how many I had. Then I went through and tried to change all those to something of more substance, with either action or emotion. It really did help.

CC said...

ly's. That's one thing that drove me nuts reading Twilight. I still remember one dialogue tag: She said artfully.

Artfully? What the heck does that mean?

*stabs ly's*

Although I've pretty much programmed my writing to omit ly's, a few never bother me as I read other people's work and I actually think it can add to the writing.

Stephanie Faris said...

I'm sure I use happily too. But I see it a lot in the genres I write...young adult and romance. We're allowed to be more...perky? Flowery? Whatever the word is for it. I have found that the more I read, the stronger my writing becomes. It gets ingrained in your subconscious. Not just word structure but conflict and conflict resolution and all of the things that make a good novel a good novel.

Mandy said...

Eric I was an 'ly' junkie too! It was horrible. I learned my lesson after several critiques pointed out the flaw. I had to totally overhaul my MS.

I think it's funny how you don't notice HOW a book is written until you write one yourself. I find that I dissect words and structure much more now than I used to.

Isn't Dan Brown awesome?? He's one of my fav's. :D

Lady Glamis said...

There are so many rules and pieces of advice to remember as we write. It's daunting and overwhelming, especially if you're new and just starting out. I don't consider myself seasoned by any means, so when a beta reader points out things that hurt, but I know are true, it's a light bulb turning on every time. It's the truth that was always there, but I refused to see.

You will be a great writer. You already are if you have the attitude you have. Breaking through our weaknesses is the only way to write well. And to do it over and over is hard, but necessary. I'm with you all the way!

Lady Glamis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Abby said...

I recently did a major overhaul on my manuscript to remove most of the ly's and was's. It was hard work and a lot of rewriting, but I ended up cutting over 10,000 words and my ms is so much stronger because of it.

Eric said...

Wow. I will apologize for not addressing everyone's comments here individually, but thank you all for the response. It's nice to know that this particular post has hit a nerve of sorts with everyone, and thank you all for the support and encouragement. This is one of the reasons I continue to try, because of the way that everyone helps everyone else.