To ADVERB or NOT? That is the question.

wordleHave you ever succumbed to the temptation of not trusting verbs to do their job? Like if your hero ‘walked slowly down the road‘ when he could’ve trudged, ambled, plodded, tramped, staggered, crawled … you get the picture?

Maybe you’ve become a bit of a writer-ly ‘adverb-Nazi’? Scouring your manuscripts of those haughty, naughty adverbs?  Sniffing them out in a Search and Destroy mission with the touch of a key?  Noticing when other writers do ‘it‘?

There’s no doubt being choosy about if and when to use adverbs improves your writing – if you find the right, potent verb for the occasion.

In his book, Writing Tools50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark pins it down..

‘At their best, adverbs spice up a verb or adjective, at their worst, they express a meaning already contained in it …

The accident totally severed the boy’s arm.
The blast completely destroyed the church office….’

Now see how much better the sentence is without the offending adverb. As Clark notes, ‘the deletion shortens the sentence, sharpens the point, and creates elbow room for the verb’.

But the war on ADVERBS doesn’t necessarily mean not using them at all. There are GOOD ADVERBS and BAD ADVERBS as Clark suggests…

‘She smiled sadly’ is more potent than ‘She smiled happily’.  And the best one of his examples … remember Roberta Flack singing ‘Killing Me Softly‘? It would never have worked with ‘Killing Me Fiercely’.

i.e.  if your adverb contains the same meaning as the verb, it appears weak. If it changes the meaning, it’s strong. In other words, there are adverbs that intensify the verb rather than modify it.’

But this blog isn’t about killing off adverbs – I would suggest be sparing in their use though.

Some in the writing world champion the cause of poor old ADVERB. For example, British author, David Hewson (the Nick Costa series) says:

‘Adverb-hate is one of those automatic ‘never do this’ rules you meet in writing schools and at book conventions from time to time.
I hate ‘never do’ rules in creative fiction. We’re trying to produce works of the imagination here, not business plans.
Furthermore adverb-hate is very localised, an American habit, one some people lay at the door of Hemingway (though whether that’s true or not I’ve no idea).
I’d never heard of this ‘rule’ before I started going to talk at writing schools in the States. And I have to be honest… no reader and certainly no editor anywhere has ever voiced the opinion that adverbs are so, like, nineteenth century, dude.’

Hewson once wrote a blog article I like adverbs: there I’ve said it boldly’, but I can’t find the link now. David Hewson makes other interesting and relevant points in his blog. ‘If you like reading and thinking about the English language and the craft of writing, these two authors and commentators are worth searching out,’ she says, enthusiastically and eagerly.

“Adverbs exist because, used properly, they bring something to writing and have done since we learned to communicate beyond grunts.”

What are your thoughts on the use of adverbs in our fiction writing?


To do or not to do … a.k.a. submitting a story

It feels strange to finally send off a story to publishers – especially a story that links to Australian actor, Geoffrey Rush (in an odd way).

I’ve worked on this manuscript for many years – it’s got a new name, and been changed in so many ways since I blogged about it in 2010. Part of me fears for its future, part of me rejoices in the fact it’s out there under the glare of lights. And the eyes of editors. It’s now called Sweet Adversity. (If you’re into Shakespeare, you’ll get that reference).

FEBRUARY 10 2010 Several weeks ago, I finished my mentorship novel, McAlpine & Macbeth with the Australian Society of Authors Mentorship . It was a fantastic experience – from learning more on the craft of writing from my mentor, Sally Rippin, to researching the Great Depression in Australia, to putting the final polish to a story that inched its way into my life like a stray child.

Mostly, it has been a labour of love over seven years. But there have also been times when the manuscript annoyed the hell out of me. Then it sat in the naughty chair in the corner, out of sight, out of mind. When the plotting got too difficult, I let other stories slip into its place as the ‘Work-in-Progress’. It sat there on the shelf, glaring at me for months, but then offering possibilities of plot-solving and pushing the characters further than I had before.

It tantalised me every time I saw an article about Shakespeare, or recognised a quote from one of his plays (you may have guessed from the title, it owes more than a little allegiance to The Bard). Like Macbeth, a pet galah in my story, Shakespeare’s magical mixture of spoken aloud words in his Plays captivate me.

My subversion to William Shakespeare happened when I was a student at a country school in regional Queensland in the late 1960s. One day, a troupe of travelling Shakespearean actors arrived in town on the train. We students sat on hard seats under the tin roof of the town hall – pesky and smelly and ready to dismiss it as a waste of time. But then the actors began The Merchant of Venice.

By the end of Act 1 you could’ve heard a pin drop on the splintery floor. I found out years later that one of those actors was the young Geoffrey Rush.

There is another reason I was determined to complete this story with its runaway girl, Shakespearean-quoting galah and a perfect pair of villains.

I have a close family link to that mostly unknown part of Australian history – the travelling actors who brought live drama to outback towns in the late 1880s.

Three generations ago, 18 year-old Lavinia Margaret McAlpine, and her father, Daniel travelled through northern New South Wales, part of an acting troupe. They didn’t confine themselves to Shakespeare – they also put on plays by demand. Like Ten Nights on a Bar-Room Floor. Paid for no doubt by the local chapter of the Anti-Alcohol Society.

There are other hand-me-down stories of Lavinia’s life – and a couple of them have inspired events in my story. I could tell you more, but it will have to wait for the day my story finally meets a publisher who will fall in love with it.

FEBRUARY 26 2014  Sweet Adversity work-in-progress was awarded a SCBWI International Work-of-Outstanding-Promise grant in September 2013. I’m using the money to travel to the National Library in Canberra to continue research in the best place in Australia to find out more of the Great Depression’s affect upon children.

I’ll never give up on this story. I owe it to the indomitable spirit of Lavinia Margaret McAlpine and Geoffrey Rush not to.

Being on the other side of the author interview

As you know, gentle readers, I interview people on my blog, usually authors and usually people I care about, and whose books I love. This time, I thought I’d swap places on the couch. I also got to share some things nobody knows about me in the Bio at the beginning.

Forgive me being ‘centre stage’ ! Promise I won’t do it too often. 🙂 This post is reprinted from the October Creative Kids Tales blog where its owner and administrator, Georgie Donaghey interviewed me for her October post. Georgie has been a great supporter of children’s books and their creators during her blog’s first year. So Happy Birthday, CKT! Take it away, Georgie….

Q. Sheryl, where’s your favourite place to write?

I love my workroom with its view over my garden, but nowadays I find I can write anywhere – usually with my laptop stable-table (thank you, IKEA), and my trusty ASUS Zen computer. Often I head out to our back deck, the best place for winter sunshine or summer breezes. I can write away from home too. Once I start re-reading what I wrote the day before, I’m in another place and the story takes off again. Who’d want to trade this life?

Tidied up especially. Yep, that is tidy.

Q. What inspires you?

I think it’s mostly books and language that inspire me – all the wonderful narratives I’ve read since I was four; all the unforgettable characters who’ve kept me company for so many years; all the places I’ve been in my imagination because of fabulous authors.

I’m also inspired by people who fight against the odds to make this world a better place – the scientists, the artists, writers and political activists.

Q. Do you decide what’s going to happen in your story or do your characters tell you?

Good question, Georgie! For me, it’s collaboration – a combination of instinct about story-telling (maybe that’s the right-brain at the wheel) and an organised, thoughtful consideration about plots, characters, dialogue and all the rest. I can jump between right and left side brain without too much clanking of gears. Sometimes, the transition is so smooth, I’m purring along in a lovely, crimson red Maserati, with the hood down.

Enough of the car analogies, though! I do love it when an idea comes from out of the blue and I follow it at full throttle. Darn! I promised no more cars.

Q. How many rejections did you receive before you were accepted?

For my first book, Secrets of Eromanga, probably around eight rejections. The letters did get longer and more positive every time though, and I did improve the story after each rejection.

The question is why did I send off the story before it was fully baked? Impatient? Willing to take risks? Yep, that’s me. Nowadays, I curb my impatience, and I have to say my writing has definitely improved over the past six years. My short stories and my school plays are finding their place in the world without rejections – does that mean something? Mmmm, must think about that one more.

Q. How did you celebrate your first book being published?

I think we went out to our favourite Thai restaurant and drank a whole bottle of superb Margaret River Dry White. It did all seem a bit surreal though – seeing as it took 18 months from acceptance to holding the book.

Before the publication, I’d had the amazing experience of being awarded an Australian Society of Authors Mentorship. Now that really was an occasion to celebrate. It boosted my confidence no end – to feel that I must be heading on the right path if strangers who are experienced writers and editors believed in my story writing ability.

Q. Do you road test your ideas before you start your story?

I probably do a bit of road testing (are we back on cars again?). But it’s more in my head than in front of a person. I trust my conscious and sub-conscious, absolutely.

I do a lot of thinking before I start writing. I do a lot of thinking about everything. You wouldn’t believe what goes on in my head sometimes. Even when I’m cooking dinner or hosing the garden, the old brain is at work. I don’t do it consciously all the time, but I know that eventually the words will come. And that’s just the first draft – my favourite part is the rewriting, the re-working and editing, that’s when the magic can sometimes happen. And all is well with the world (of a word-crazy author, at least).

I have a couple of trusted writing friends that I share my stories in progress with and get valuable feed-back from them. Thanks, girls!

Last week, I was out in the bush, at the Chinchilla State School doing a writer-in-residence gig. I ‘road-tested’ the first chapter of my current work with the Years 5/6/7s. FANGUS FEARBOTTOM (book 1 of a trilogy) is still in the polishing stage, but you can tell when kids are interested and caught up in a story. And I reckon this novel could be a winner when (notice I say when, not if?) a publisher picks it up.

Q. What’s next from Sheryl Gwyther?

I have another school play appearing soon in The School Magazine (love writing plays!) It’s called SCAREDY CROW.

I’ll keep writing my novels – like FANGUS FEARBOTTOM, MACBETH & ME and SINGING THE WIRES – did I mention I have three works-in-progress? Yeah, that’s me, a glutton for punishment. But I love all three and they’re heading down to the finishing line.

I would like to do more art work, painting and printmaking… my other loves. But words keep getting in the way. Maybe this year sometime?

This year, I was elected on to the Board of Directors of the Australian Society of Authors (ASA) so that takes up some of my time too – it’s an honour to represent authors (in particular, children’s authors).

I’ve also taken on the Assistant Regional Advisor for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators in Queensland (SCBWI), and it’s a great experience. It’s great connecting up with other people who are passionate about children’s writing, like your good self, Georgie! All part of what keeps me going.

I also love visiting the wonderful and special writers I’ve met over the past few years, like Dee White, Angela Sunde, Tania McCartney, Karen Brooks and Lynn Priestley – they’ve become like sisters, and I love them dearly.

Thank you again, Georgie, for the opportunity of being on your fabulous blog.

Do writers need to network? Do crackers need cheese?

Gone are the days when a writer could sit up in a proverbial garret and stare out across the rooftops, alone and isolated, glumly waiting for the muse to visit. Not that the garret situation was ever the case for most writers – but you get my drift.

It is necessary to network if you want to get your writerly presence out there in the marketplace. In the area of Children’s and Young Adult writing, support organisations that promote books, like the Children’s Book Council of Australia and Book Links are well worth joining. Join writing organisations like the Australian Society of Authors who run workshops in different capital cities and have a newsletter.

Join SCBWI (Society of Children’s Books Writers and Illustrators) if you write for children and Young Adults. Go to their conferences. Not only do you meet up with writing friends from all over Australia, you rub shoulders with the country’s best children’s books’ editors, publishers, authors and agents. And if you are lucky, you could be chosen to give a short 3-minute pitch of your latest manuscript.

As long as you don’t mind speaking in front of a roomful of attendees and are prepared for very honest, no holds barred opinions from the publishers !

Be an active member of your State’s writing centres. Here in my home state, the Queensland Writers Centre has many social occasions where you can meet publishers, agents and other writers. NOTE: Don’t dare lug along your 80,000-word manuscript. But, if the occasion arises and your instincts say it’s the right time to do it, and the publisher/agent sounds interested in what you do, have your 1-sentence pitch ready. Then if questions come, be able to answer them succinctly. But know when to stop.

Attend book launches in your city – support your fellow writers and they will do the same for you when it is your turn. It’s also a great way to meet up with other writer friends.

An on-line presence is essential these days, especially if you are a regional or outback writer. Here, in Australia that could mean you live thousands of kilometres from the coastal cities.

Blogs and Twitter are fun and useful. Not that I do too much twittering – it’s addictive and not that useful just on a computer. Besides, I have to leave time to do some real writing done.

I use WORDPRESS.COM as my blog provider. I love it! It’s user-friendly and full of excellent features. You can also use it in place of a website if you want. WordPress.org is a site you pay for but it gives you a lot more features.

Facebook is a wonderful way to meet other writers in Australia – in my case, its authors who write children’s and YA books. I think we must be one of the most closely-knit (in terms of Facebook) community of writers in the world with so many of us Facebook befriending and meeting at writing conferences across the continent.

This is all part of your PLATFORM – yeah, more new jargon. But it’s all to do with helping you and your work to stand out amongst the many thousands of writers in this country and across the globe. I won’t dishearten you by including the numbers of hopeful writers just in Australia alone.

Do you blog regularly? Is it an attractive site? Do you support other writers’ blogs and leave comments? Do you have an appealing website; one that is easy to navigate?

I love blogging – usually about writing, but also about the things that I feel strongly about and/or topics that might interest others.

There are many links to other writers’ blogs on my site. They have linked my site to theirs too. I have chosen many because they offer good writing, helpful advice and entertaining insights into their lives as writers. Here’s the link to what fellow children’s and YA author, Dee White says about NETWORKING.

A future blog will check out some of my writerly friends and give you a little peek into their worlds.

PS How do you network in the world of writing? Any more suggestions?