Friday, March 4, 2011

-ly Words are Like Cinnamon

How do you feel about oatmeal raisin cookies without the touch of cinnamon? Sure, they taste great, especially straight from the oven when they're warm and gooey. But what about oatmeal raisin cookies that include just the right amount of cinnamon? They're even better.

Lately, I've read several blogs decrying death to -ly words. Go to any writers' forum, conference, class, blog, you get the idea, there will be at least one person on a soapbox banning adverbs. On some level, I agree, if they're used redundantly. Too much cinnamon can kill a recipe. But just enough, can be the difference between bland and sensational.

So I set out to prove that -ly words are necessary. For emphasis. For clarity. For the subtle change in the meaning of a sentence. For example, John Steinbeck said, "I hold that a writer who does not passionately believe in the perfectibility of a man has no dedication nor any membership in literature." Wait...what was that...did Steinbeck use an -ly word? Gasp! And if you delete it, does it not change the meaning of the sentence?

But surely I wasn't overusing the spice rack. I have a manuscript I'd worked hard to rewrite and I'm about to resubmit, so I thought, "What can it hurt to do a search for "-ly" and make sure each was included for a specific reason." It started off fine, most absolutely needed to be there. As I went along I found a few I didn't need and deleted them. Do you want to know how many I ended up deleting? About 500! 

Apparently my novel had too much cinnamon!