Grammar Woes: The Truth About Adverbs

Grammar Woes:
The Truth About

“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one in your lawn, it looks pretty and unique." --Stephen King

This is well meant advice but I've noticed as of late how the #WritingCommunity has run wild with it, taking it at times as an ultimatum. I'm weighing in here today to discuss the truth behind adverbs in creative writing.

Myth 1: King's quote means don't use adverbs
If you read the meme below, the quote is out of context and it does sound like he is telling writers to never use adverbs in their writing, but that is what happens when you read a snippet out of context. See the above quote as it was meant to be read: "To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one in your lawn, it looks pretty and unique" (King). Here the quote is saying one here and there can be beautiful, but if they are all over, some should be weeded out. So King is not actually saying NEVER use them, but to do so sparingly.

Myth 2: Adverbs show inferior writing
If you use adverbs you are not a poor writer, but if you heavily rely on them, as King points out, you might want to look into rewording things to improve. The entire adverbs are evil mentality stems from them sometimes telling the reader something instead of showing. Some writers hate the "show don't tell" slogan, but as a reader picturing something is so much more enriching than being told.

Example: She said angrily, "I don't like you."    versus 
With her fists balled up and her eyes glimmering with fiery rage, she said, "I don't like you."

This is what King is referring to. By telling writers adverbs are bad, he was trying to get more out of them as writers.

Adverbs have a time and a place. Should we think about them and try to avoid them? Perhaps, it depends if you naturally over or under use them. I use them a lot just to get the mood down around dialogue, notoriously using them in dialogue tags which I know is a big no-no. I do make a note to go through and revise the passages. My publishers usually catch more that I miss. The point is, think about them, note your usage of them, but don't let it stifle your writing process. For me, this is a revision and editing concern.

What other well-meaning but abused advice should we discuss next?

YA Book Review: Head Case

YA Book Review:

Head Case

Despite not being a gamer or a fan of Alice in Wonderland (I'm weird), Niki Cluff still sucks me in and delights me with an intricate world full of surprises, action, and romance.

In Head Case, Allyson--gamer and hacker extraordinaire--is left in a coma after a terrible car accident. Able to hear sense everything going on around her, she discovers the doctors are forcing her coma for an experimental "treatment" that would give coma patients a virtual chance to live a full life. At first, the VR world seems great, but Ally misses her family, socialization, and real life. She hacks into the VR system and uses astral planing to communicate with the living in hopes to be woken up. A big no-no it seems, so she is thrown into another world where a mad queen rules, a boy with rabbit ears steals her heart, and another whom is half cat befriends her. The problem is the mad queen Aishwarya has her heart set on the bunny-boy Harrison as well. Soon Ally and her friends are racing to escape the mad queen and are fighting for their lives both virtually and in reality.

This book is definitely for teen and adult readers who are into technology. Some of the references were lost on me when it came to gaming, but Cluff does make and effort to slip in some old school titles us adults who don't play anymore would recognize. The world building is phenomenal. From describing the sensations of being in a coma without being able to see anything, to a Sims world, to a fantastical place inspired by Alice in Wonderland, Cluff shows a penchant for world building. I felt completely immersed in the game as if the imagery was projected right in front of me. The plot is refreshing and not predictable. The beginning sucks the reader in, then admittedly there is a lull before action resumes, but I felt it was necessary because the fantasy VR world and characters are so intricately detailed that a lot of the novel's strengths would be lost if the book was merely plot-centered.

Overall, the world building, descriptions, and plot make this a great read. If you'd like to check this book out, click here.

Publishing Tips: The Ever-Dreaded Query

Publishing Tips: 

The Ever-Dreaded 

Query time! As promised here is another query that worked and snagged me a publisher. The letter itself is in blue with red explaining the method to my madness. I hope it helps you craft your own.

Dear AGENT or REPRESENTATIVE (in response to #PitMad), (here, I had to tag the publishing rep to remind her she had requested my query during this Twitter pitch party)

The Selection meets Poison Study. Toury arrives in Fyr where magic is power, a prince’s love is deadly, and female autonomy is a dream. Prince Alex realizes Toury can break his curse and save his people, but Earth girls aren’t so easy. (This was my pitch I used during #PitMad. I have a post on this pitch itself here)

Let me introduce you to Fyr, book one of the YA fantasy romance trilogy Celestial Spheres, which is 86k words. (This is common to get to the point so the reader doesn't waste time or can pass it on to someone who works with that genre if he/she doesn't. You do need work count, genre, and title. Note how I warned them it would be a trilogy but said nothing about having written more than this one. Agents always say to never say you have more books lying around as it sounds like an inability to snag a deal). Toury, an unloved loner thrust into a new world, realizes this fire sphere is not all it’s cracked up to be, with its strict rules in propriety and young marriageable age. Then she makes the gravest mistake of all by offending an ogler who just happens to be the Prince. Alex, the Prince of Fyr, has many challenges to conquer such as his father’s ailing health, the pressure to marry soon, and the hidden necromancers trying to take over the realm with dark magic he is vulnerable to because he’s cursed. But there’s hope in a cheeky earth girl savior who deems her independence as more important than a suit from him. Together they can break the curse and save the world, but cooperation is difficult due to Alex robbing Toury of her freedom, her ignorance of their world and her own powers, and their enemies’ nefarious plans. And worst of all, Alex learns the only way to break the curse is through true love, not the kind of magic he can conjure but must earn. They must risk their lives, hearts, and futures to save the land from a darkness of apocalyptic proportions. (This is the synopsis portion and was one of the hardest I've had to write yet. As you can tell, it is a complicated plot and a dual point of view, each character having multiple conflicts to deal with. I started with something twice this length and then cut out words, combined ideas, regrouped them according to character to simplify and boil it down).

Transforming Renaissance astronomical theory into a fantastical world and love story seems an arduous task, but having BA’s in English, Dramatic Arts, and an MA in English, gives me a vast background of knowledge of character and world building. I’ve published the story “A Jaded Life” (Circumambulations literary journal), the novella “Dare” in the Kissed anthology (Evernight Teen) and have a novel Apidae (Evernight Teen) debuting this winter. I’m also a college Lecturer and strongly believe in the effectiveness of publicity through social media, and use a blog and other digital venues. However, living in the deep south, I am looking for official representation in the publishing world to champion my full-length manuscripts. It would be a pleasure to be a part of a start-up company, taking a lucrative journey together from the very beginning. (This section doesn't vary much in my queries since it is my credentials that do not really change. I did add a novel in this one that was coming out since that was new. In this section, you want to give them any relevant information that lends you credibility when it comes to writing. This is hard if you do not have any works or degrees in English, so you may have to get creative. My first ever query discussed my degrees only and how I taught the age group of my audience, and it did get a few responses but no contracts. The point is, put what you can. If there's nothing to put, think about trying to publish some shorter works or entering contests).

I look forward to hearing from you soon and humbly thank you for your time.(Here you might want to add some phrasing asking if you can send them your full-length manuscript or something in addition to whatever they asked for with this query. Pay attention to their submissions website. My publisher asked for the entire manuscript, so there was no need to ask. Some ask for first 3 chapters, 50 pages, a 2 page synopsis, etc. If they do not ask for the entire thing, then ask them if they want it.)


Lisa Borne Graves

(Social media accounts are necessary these days to prove you can market, your own website or blog looks even better. It only costs me $12/year for my own domain name. If you do have published books, having author accounts on Goodreads and Amazon are imperative too. All these show you are serious about selling your work and will work as hard as your publisher in doing so).

I hope this helps you craft your own and please comment with questions or suggestions about what you'd like me to tackle next when it comes to writing and publishing. In a few months, I will post another successful query--incidentally, my first query ever written. This will be my last query for a while as I'm now on a submission basis with my publisher without a need to query (which feels amazing).

If interested in reading book 1 of Celestial SpheresFyr, you can now purchase the book here.

Publishing Tips: Return to the Dreaded Pitch

Publishing Tips: 

Return to the 
Dreaded Pitch

Here's a sneak peek to my upcoming novel--out next week!

In a previous post on pitches, I explained the use and my process for writing pitches. I promised that once my books were safely out and protected under copyright, I'd share my path to getting them snagged by a publisher. As I've discussed before, I'm a fan of Twitter pitch parties and found success in the two I've entered: #pit2pub and #pitmad. Here is one of my pitches that successfully attracted the attention of a publisher, whom I queried, and they picked up the book:

The Selection meets Poison Study. Toury arrives in Fyr where magic is power, a prince’s love is deadly, and female autonomy is a dream. Prince Alex realizes Toury can break his curse and save his people, but Earth girls aren’t so easy.

This one was a struggle. It is a way more complex book than my first one, meaning the two characters have separate conflicts that come together and they are numerous. I still feel this could've been stronger but it got the job done. I started with a comparison to other novels. This gives the reader a taste of what to expect and shows you're well read in your genre. I introduce the female protagonist and her complications while also painting a picture of the world. I also insinuated my genres too, through particular word choices: a romance "love" and the fantasy genre "magic." The second sentence shows he is another protagonist, a dual POV novel, with his own problems. My pitch focuses equally on plot and romance because this is a romance driven novel. I never state "teen" or "YA" because in pitch days posts, you must label your category and genre with hashtag abbreviations; this novel had a #YA #F #R tagged onto it. Plus the comparisons should be of your category/genre and both are edgy romance novels with similar themes to my own.

Overall, I'm seeing a content pattern in my pitches which might be the recipe for success: genre, protagonist, complications, hook. These are essential to get in, but most importantly, it has to sound good. The best advice I have is to fully participate in these pitch parties, even if you're not pitching. Retweet authors' pitches you think are well written (do not like them--that is for the agents and publishers to mark their interest). This helps them and it'll go on your page where you can view them later and make a study of them. The only way I learned how to pitch was reading other authors. The same goes for queries, which I will post in a couple soon for you.

You can pre-order this book here

Tips for Writers: Info-Dumping

Tips for Writers: 

What is info-dumping?
You're writing a complex novel. There's info you need to get across to your reader so that they can understand what it going on. You start writing some of it--maybe the character is reflecting on it or a character tells someone a story. You feel like you've got a good grip on it only to realize you've written four pages in a row of backstory. You've just committed the cardinal writing sin of info-dumping.

Info-dumping is when the author gives the reader a large chunk of info all at once usually in narration or dialogue. Usually the author is telling the reader about the setting and its history, it's laws/rules, a character's history or personality, technology, creatures, etc.

Why is info-dumping bad?
It is seen by some as lazy writing, telling the reader instead of showing, or just plain boring since no brain work is involved for the reader. Just telling the reader about the world, character, or history of it simply is not as engaging as showing it. We need to connect to the story and its characters in an emotional way, to care about them. Giving us a list of who the characters are and what they've been through doesn't do that, but showing us how they struggle through obstacles does.

How can we fix it?
If you've done this, don't feel bad. It happens to the best of us. 

Get it out of your system. Sometimes I purposely info-dump to get a grip on my world. I color-code it at the start of my manuscript get it out of my system, and then work it in as I write in more effective ways. So this is one way to avoid it. I'm a pantser (write without an outline or plan) author for the most part, but do allow myself this "planning" paragraph to wrap my mind around my world. I only tend to do this with fantasy.

Break it up. Self-explanatory, take these chunks and of info and divide them up in more interesting ways. Perhaps someone is telling a story or having a conversation but they get interrupted which leaves the main character and the reader wondering for another chapter or so until they can be alone again to resume the story. 

Add action around the info. As long as there is some action breaking up or preventing a long passage of info, you are no longer committing info-dumping. You're giving your reader and interesting, informative scene. Perhaps two characters are having a conversation/argument that reveals the laws of the land while they're setting the table. Described actions help us see a scene, picturing the two characters while we soak up the info.

What if you HAVE to info-dump?
Sometimes you might feel it is unavoidable. Perhaps it's some historical info about your world or characters and a flashback won't work. Your character needs info but other than someone telling a story, you can't think of a way to get it across. It can be okay if it's engaging--shows personality, irony, a conflict, etc. Think of Harry Potter. In the later books, there's a sub-villain of Rita Skeeter, the journalist. We see her articles and books telling biased information about characters which creates irony, a whole other narrative voice, and sets up a conflict for Harry (how he is viewed and later how Dumbledore is viewed). It's engaging and in a journalistic style that sets it apart from the rest of the text. 

We all want to be engaging and for our readers to enjoy our writing, so dump the info-dumping. 


Tales in Publishing: Query example

Tales in Publishing:  Query example I'm sharing my successful query to others in hopes it exemplifies what to do and helps other au...