The Problem With Adverbs

Creative Writers are always warned to watch out for too many modifiers – adjectives and adverbs. Truly, we should aim for zero modifiers, but there may be an accession where one may be appropriate. So let’s call it as few as possible and those few are indispensable.

Adverbs are worse than adjectives. In fact, I will often use the Find function on my laptop and enter “ly” to see how many adverbs I let slip in. When I find them I decide whether to keep it, lose it, or rewrite the passage. Rewriting is usually what I end up doing.

When Not To Use Adverbs

The problem with all modifiers is that they are notorious tellers when we Creative Writers should be obnoxious showers. I still use a trick I learned from my first Creative Writing professor. If someone used an adverb in a story, the student had to justify its use.

For example, let’s says someone wrote, “Billy walked lazily down the sidewalk.” He would ask something like, “What does that mean?” or “How do you do that?” The student would then have to describe how a person walks in a manner that could be called lazy. He would then reply, “Now say that.”

Once you describe the actions of a lazy man walking you have ventured into the wonderful world of showing. So when you catch yourself using an adverb, ask yourself what sort of actions would convey that manner, and then use those actions in your prose.

The vilest place a Creative Writer may put an adverb is in a dialogue tagline. It jumps up from the page and screams at the reader THIS AUTHOR IS AN AMATURE! Don’t ever use, “he said knowingly” or “she asked curiously” or any other kind of abysmal modifirific abomination. You can read more about this in my article about the proper use of taglines.

When To Use Adverbs

I had to change clothes before I wrote this part of the article. I had to put on shirt and pants that are all black. That’s because I’m about to shift into Grammar Nazi mode for a bit here. So indulge me for a little bit here or you’ll be strung up with piano wire.

There are times when an adverb is preferable, and that is when an adjective is misused. Just keep in mind this distinction: adjectives tend to modify nominatives (nouns, pronouns) and adverbs tend to modify predicates (verbs, participles).

Sometimes people use adjectives when the modifier has a predicate antecedent. Look at the sentence, “He wanted to see Santa Claus real bad.” Here it should be “badly.” In this sentence “bad” modifies “see.” In other words, the manner in which he wanted to see Santa was badly, not bad.

I may lose my membership to the Author’s Private Club with Salon and Lounge, but this is a sentence where an adverb should be used. At least the adverb is not grammatically incorrect. I would suggest that the Creative Writer must still see if “badly” passes the rigors for adverbial use as discussed earlier. At least it will keep us Grammar Nazis from clucking our tongues at your text when you misuse adjectives.

Two rules all Creative Writers should know are watch the use of modifiers and grammar must be used perfectly (extra credit for those who catch the irony). In the end, it’s your story, and you will write it however you want to. But don’t forget that everyone who reads it will judge it and you. Don’t open yourself up to unnecessary scowls and scrutiny just because you really thought all those messy modifiers actually worked. It’s best to keep the prose as clean as possible with nothing on the page that is not indispensable.

If you know some Authors who struggle with adverbs and all attending shenanigans, do them a favor and Share this article with them. And be sure to leave your Comments in the section below. I will read them earnestly.

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Jolee Wilson & The Blog Hop

Jolee Wilson is a writer and a blogger participating in a Blog Hop. I agreed to participate in it with her. She promotes three bloggers on her blog site and those three in turn promote three bloggers, and so forth into eternity. Here is a link to her post. I encourage everyone reading to go and enjoy her site. Look around and see what you can see. You’ll be seeing my Blog Hop coming up in a week or two. Enjoy!

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Top Ten Novels Set In The Wilderness

I was recently looking over my second novel, Drover. I’ve yet to publish it and I’m thinking of launching it some time next year. It’s a about a cowboy who wants to settle down with a big ranch and a big family. It’s not a Western, but it also isn’t some sprawling urban tale. It made me think about over books set in the wilderness. These are my Top Ten favorite books set out in the wild.

10. Little House In The Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder – We all remember the television show.

9. Roughing It by Mark Twain – Twain’s offering of a Western.

8. Don Quixote by Miguel Cervantes – The original buddy story on the road.

7. All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy – The first in McCarthy’s border trilogy.

6. A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean – The struggles of a Montana fishing family.

5. The Bear by William Faulkner – Hunting a bear in the Mississippi woods and coming of age.

4. The Heart Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad – An ivory trader on the Congo River deals with racism and colonialism.

3. For Whom The Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway – Spanish rebels who live in a cave tasked with blowing up a bridge.

2. Lord Of The Flies by William Golding – Young boys on their own demonstrate our true state of nature.

1. Call Of The Wild by Jack London – More than anything ever written, Nature is the hero in this book.

There are certainly other novels and you may feel as if they should make the list. Make your own list and let me know about it in the Comment section below.

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Top Ten Ways You Can Celebrate Bloomsday


 One of the most celebrated novels is James Joyce’s Ulysses. It details the events of a single day in the life of Leopold Bloom. This day is June 16, 2904. And so, every June 16th is celebrated as Bloomsday. Maybe you’ve never honored Bloomsday or even knew it existed. Or maybe you keep it every year. Regardless, here’s a few things you can do today to celebrate Bloomsday.

10. Enjoy a fried kidney for breakfast along with a cup of hot tea.

9. Discuss the nature of Hamlet’s ghost with yoiur friends.

8. Buy a container of potted meat, without with no home is complete.

7. Mourn loved ones.

6. Insert the word Yes in the middle and at the end of sentences.

5. Write a poem while on the beach

4. Write a love letter and sign it Henry Flower.

3. Duck into the National Museum.

2. Visit a maternity ward in a hospital.

1. Talk about love with those who need to hear it the most

All these and more go on in Joyce’s Ulysses. Do them all and enjoy them. Find other things in the book you can do, as well. Regardless, make sure you live today and every day in contentment regardless of your lot and love all you meet with the compassion they deserve.


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The Mount Rushmore Of Literature

Basketball star Lebron James made news earlier this year when he said that belongs on the Mount Rushmore of basketball players. Some agreed, others disagreed, but my opinion varied from all others I heard.

James was claiming to be one of the four best players ever and the debate revolved around that. The debate missed the point because of a flawed assumption. The assumption has nothing to do with Lebron James, but rather with the four presidents represented on Mount Rushmore.

The presidents figured do not represent the four best presidents. But rather the single best president to signify a certain aspect of American greatness. George Washington stands for Independence. Thomas Jefferson represents Freedom. Abraham Lincoln symbolizes Equality. Theodore Roosevelt emblemizes America’s role in world affairs.

It’s common to miss this point and consider the four best of anything to be the Mount Rushmore of this or that. So if I were to ever talk about the Mount Rushmore of Literature, it should follow the same pattern as the original intent.

The Mount Rushmore Of Great Authors

The literary equivalence to George Washington is Walt Whitman. He stands for American independence from the British literary tradition more than any writer of his time. Some would suggest Twain or Poe, which are fine options. But to me, Whitman breaks away from the British model and creates an American literary tradition all other American writers would follow.

Ernest Hemingway certainly walked down the trail blazed by Whitman, but he demonstrates freedom in a way that is different than the notion of independence. Hemingway composed in a way that was free from the patterns and the rules that governed most of the world’s literature, with the possible exception of the Russian writers of the 1800s.

If there is an American author who principally stands for equality, it is John Steinbeck. He believed in the concept of the oversoul. In this way, all living people are connected. So in a work like The Grapes Of Wrath Steinbeck demonstrates that we should care for all people and not just our family.

To find a writer who deals with the affairs of the world, I had to go outside of the American catalogue. William Shakespeare more than anyone who has ever lived expertly wrote of how it is to live the life of a human, regardless of when or where they lived. His plays handled a wonderful universality that makes his tales utterly timeless.

The Mount Rushmore Of Great Literature

But how about the four best representatives of written works? I would begin with The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. This masterwork by Mark Twain is arguably the novel that began American literature, at least in novel form. It not only addresses American issues, but it does so with an American tone and style. This story could not have been written by any of Twain’s contemporaries in Europe, and definitely not in his voice.

Just as Hemingway ventured from the old ways of writing novels, T.S. Eliot broke new ground with his poem, “The Waste Land.” It was not only a new way of composing poetry, it addressed a subject matter new to the literary scene. Arguably “The Waste Land” dealt with the emptiness of the Lost Generation following the Great War and all of its skepticism and disillusionment. Others wrote of this subject before and after this work, but none did it with the indelible ink of Eliot.

There were many American novels written in the 1800s that dealt with the sin of slavery, but Absolom, Absolom! handled the matter in the most unique way possible. The main character is appalled by a mixed race relationship but doesn’t bat an eye at incest. In the novel, those one-eighth black were called octoroons. One character comments that black blood must be strong if one-eighths of it in someone can overpower the remaining seven-eighths white blood.

Just as Shakespeare wrote stories with universal appeal, James Joyce authored the ultimate timeless novel with Ulysses. Joyce took Homer’s epic that covered twenty years and reduced it to twenty hours. And even though everything in the story deals with the adventures of one man, a Jewish advertising agent in Dublin, and everything takes place on June 16, 1904, Joyce nails down the universal message of love better than anything else I have ever known.

I know this is all my opinion. You may think of other writers or works that best suit the notions of independence, liberty, equality, and universality. That’s fine, in fact I encourage critical thinking on this and any subject. Make your own Mount Rushmore of Literature. Share it if you’d like in the Comment section below. In any instance, enjoy the construction work ahead.


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Five Star Amazon Review For The Gatsby Reader

gatsby reader

It has been said that reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel The Great Gatsby is a mysterious experience—something like eating a bowl of whipped cream and, once you are done, feeling totally full and satisfied. This may be due several reasons: the characters are simultaneously exaggerated and real; both the story and the situation capture an essentially American experience, one replete with longings, triumphs, and failures; and then there is, of course, the luminosity of Fitzgerald’s prose. For almost thirty years, as a student and professor of American literature, I have sought to unravel the mystery of this book and have resolved to teach it as often as possible until I get my lectures just right. This has yet to happen.
Nevertheless, Neal Abbott’s insightful examination of this most American of texts brings me closer to this gold ring: his perspicacious reading calls into question some of the most established assumptions of the story, about who killed Myrtle Wilson and even who killed Gatsby himself. Also, once he lays out his argument that Gatsby is on a grail quest, it seems so obvious that one wonders why it wasn’t seen before, let alone why it isn’t one of the more popular and established readings of the book.
Again, I have tried for many years to perfect my teaching of The Great Gatsby and, because of Mr. Abbott’s little book, I feel I am much closer to that goal.

Dr. Eddie Tafoya
Professor of Creative Writing and American Literature
New Mexico Highlands University

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Deus Ex Machina, Or, Wouldn’t This Be A Good Time For A Piece Of Rhubarb Pie?

As Writer we think we are smart. Sometimes too smart. Even the best of us will occasionally put on our clever trousers when we sit down to write. We have put in the ultimate fake-out ending. When readers reach our magnificent O’ Henry twist, we expect them to smack their heads and exclaim, “I didn’t see that coming!” Normally they just scratch their heads, and say, “Where did that come from?”

You have pulled a classic Creative Writing blunder known as deus ex machina. It is Latin for “God in the machine.” It comes from the Middle Ages where the plays were so bad that writers couldn’t think of anything else. The hero would get himself into a jam he could not manage, and then an actor would be lowered from the top of the stage (on the machine) playing the role of Jesus, or Apollo, or Isis. And by a wave of their divine hand, the problem is fixed miraculously. We are left with a warning, some bit of heavenly wisdom normally regarding pride, greed, or anger, so that we in the audience will not make the hero’s same mistake.

The Cure

The way to avoid the hero’s salvation coming out of nowhere is by the use of foreshadowing. Don’t send the cavalry over the hill if we have not yet read about the cavalry. If you want an O’ Henry twist, then do it, but throw down some bread crumbs throughout the book so that we are not so dumbfounded.

You are not in danger of giving away the ending if you foreshadow properly. Conversely, you are in true peril if you fail to foreshadow. Your reader will not think you are a clever writer, just a bad one. You don’t create fans by giving the impression that you are stupid. And to think this failing is impressed because of an effort to seem ingenious.

Mea Culpa

If I may embarrass myself for a moment, I recently did it. That’s right, I pulled a dxm, as I now call it. My hero got pulled from the fire by a character who did not exist until the last page. Okay, he did exist, but no one knew that but me. And this character does appear twice, but as someone else.

So I had to make some changes, but don’t we all when we’re writing? I had to toss around some bread crumbs. I know how it is. We who are clever writers don’t want to spoil the surprise, so we leave no information at all. But instead of clever it’s obtuse.

You can foreshadow your ending by mentioning careful and appropriately placed bit of information that seem innocent enough, but are the tidbits the reader can use. So when our fans reach the end of the book and see what we have done, they can remember what they have already read and put things together, and then you will have the head smack and not the scalp scratch.

Rhubarb Pie Fixes Everything

Garrison Keillor, host of the weekly NPR radio show “A Prairie Home Companion,” is a masterful entertainer. He uses fake sponsors as part of the gimmick. One of his regular “sponsors” is Be-Bop-A-Re-Bop Rhubarb Pie & Rhubarb Pie Filling.

Garrison tells a tale where he puts each member of the audience individually in the center of his story. First one thing goes wrong, then another, and pretty soon you are over your head. And when things could not possibly get worse, Garrison cuts in with the happy music and says, “Wouldn’t this be a good time for a piece of rhubarb pie? Nothing removes the taste of shame and humiliation like a piece of rhubarb pie.” And then everyone sings the cheerful jingle.

Garrison is pulling a good ol’ fashion dxm, that’s for sure. But he’s intending to do it for humorous reasons, and for him, it works. When we dxm the end of our novels, it is not entertaining at all. All of our anticipated “Ah-Ha” moments will dissolve into “Uh-oh” calamities, and there is nothing funny about that.

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New Release Available

Think Like A Writer is now available on Amazon and Kindle




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Top Ten List: My Favorite Humanitarian Novels

A Humanitarian novel is one where the story addresses the inequality between classes, and particularly the sin of such respect of persons. These differences may be ethnic, economic, or geographical. Quite often there is overlap between these three categories. Sometimes the issue could be political, but I did not include any such novels in this because the emphasis is politics and government. Any story that deals with an Us and Them dichotomy would serve as a Humanitarian novel.

10. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton – Set in 1965 Tulsa, The Outsiders sets the Greasers against the Socs. Two Greasers kill some Socs who attack them and they are on the run. On their own, they are neither Greasers nor Socs, but just human.

9. To Have And Have Not by Ernest Hemingway – Harry Morgan is a boat charterer in Florida who is harassed by several manifestations by The Man. He gets the rough treatment from the rich, crime bosses, and law enforcement in the U.S. and Cuba.

8. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair – This novel deals with the suffering of immigrants in Chicago meat-packing plants. It shows the dangerous and unclean working conditions for these people.

7. Native Son by Richard Wright – Bigger Thomas is a destitute black man during the Depression who turns to crime. His lawyer points out that he is what society has made of him.

6. The Death Of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy – Ivan moves into a new place intended to show his family’s superiority. He injures himself hanging curtains and the doctors can do nothing. He realizes he will die and in is anguish since something so horrible would happen to someone who was so good. A few hours before he dies he realizes he has not been good, but selfish. With this realization, his pain goes away and he dies.

5. Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens – Oliver suffers many mistreatments from the orphanage to the workhouse to the streets, where he falls in with young pickpockets. Despite his harsh life, Oliver retains a certain grace about himself and his life.

4. Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe – Eliza escapes slavery and is chased by her master, Simon Legree. Through many adversities she gets away and Simon dies. The hardships and evils of slavery are shown as well here as in any novel.

3. Pudd’nhead Wilson by Mark Twain – A slave named Roxy switches her son for the white son of her owners. She is fair-skinned and her son only 1/32nd black, so the switch succeeds. The slave’s child raised in white privilege becomes a spoiled brat while the white child raised as a slave is taught virtue and lives rightly. This novel shows that skin color means nothing, but only the choices we make to follow good or evil.

2. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo – The working poor, along with prisoners and prostitutes, and shown to have a miserable existence and are constantly mistreated by anyone who can hurt them. The consequence is uprising and revolution.

1. The Grapes Of Wrath by John Steinbeck – We know that Steinbeck believed in an “oversoul,” which means we all share one soul. This means we are not only responsible for our families, but for everyone else’s welfare. And any act of cruelty is not only wrong, but against our own interests.

As with all of my Top Ten lists, these are my opinion. You may think of a different set of books. What would your Top Ten favorite Humanitarian novels be? Let me know of your list in the Comment section below. And if you enjoyed this post, share it with others.



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Final Days Of Free Book Offer

This is the last week you can get your two FREE ebooks, THINK LIKE A WRITER and THE GATSBY READER. Send me an email for your request (

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