Tuesday, June 29, 2010

World Building from a Reader's Perspective

I recently finished a perfectly adequate YA urban fantasy. The voice was fine, the plot was fine, and the characters were--you guessed it--fine. But when I turned that last page and set the book down, I didn’t make a mad dash to the computer to research the author and find out when the next one would be coming out. It just hadn’t grabbed me. And I think a lot of that had to do with a less-talked-about element of storytelling: world building.

First, a disclaimer: I know as much about world building as your average unpublished writer of all things fantasy and science fiction, so this post is not meant to be prescriptive so much as observational. These are simply a few things I’ve noticed as a reader. Feel free to disagree with me all you want (and take my observations with a truckload of salt).

All right. So I don’t want to talk about the stories that don’t work, because that’s just rude. Instead, I want to talk about those stories that do, and what better examples do we have than the two most recognizable, most successful book brands in the world? Yep, I’m talking about the Harry Potter and Twilight series (serieses? seri?).

The Simple Approach Say what you will about Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series, but her world building was one of the books’ stronger points. I feel perfectly confident in admitting that the world of TWILIGHT totally sucked me in. For the few hours I read it (and it was just a few), I was completely willing to believe granite-skinned vampires lived (sort of) among us.

And why was that? Because the world of TWILIGHT was so similar to reality. Except for one tiny detail, Bella’s world could have been my own. As a reader, I didn’t have to remember a bunch of new rules or keep track of a bunch of new places. I just had to let myself be swept up by it all. Over the course of the series, a few more world-building elements trickled in (like the existence of werewolves and the Volturi, and the bloody history of vampire turf wars), but these didn’t change the real world much, either. The elegance of TWILIGHT’s world building lay in its simplicity.

The Complex Approach J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, on the other hand, lies at the opposite end of the spectrum. Think about all the new words Ms. Rowling introduced to our vocabularies (like Muggles and Quidditch and Expelliarmus, oh, my), and all the new places she took us (like Diagon Alley and Platform Nine and Three-quarters and, of course, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry). The world of HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE was just so dense, and each book thereafter only added to the density.

And therein lies the key to this more complex approach: The writer doesn’t give everything away all at once. When I first read HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE, I truly felt as if I were stepping into a world that had never existed before--and only catching those glimpses of it that were vital to my understanding of the present story. A thousand more places and a million more stories existed in that world, but Ms. Rowling whisked me right past them without bothering to explain. And that was how I knew her story world was so full and developed. Because I sensed she could have told me so much more, but, for the story’s sake, didn’t.

Note to self: Never underestimate the importance of world building. Because it can be what makes the difference between a good book and a great one.

So what are some of your favorite story worlds? And what makes them so memorable?

Saturday, June 26, 2010

(Work-in-) Progress Report: Bob

Word count (to the nearest thousand): 63,000 (barely)
Status: Finished with the third draft!
Attitude: Relieved

I usually don’t post on weekends, but I just wanted to drop in to say…I’m finished! Bob is currently sitting in the inboxes of my first two beta readers, and I couldn’t be more excited.

As for my last (work-in-) progress report, I gave up on the whole reading-Bob-out-loud thing. I decided that should be one of the last edits I do, and so that out-loud read is still several months away.

What have I been doing, then, this past week and a half? Filling in all the little holes, as I mentioned in my last report, and using the find-and-replace feature to get rid of too-common words and phrases. I’ve never used that technique, but now I can’t imagine NOT using it. (Yesterday, for example, I eliminated about two hundred “justs,” “rights,” and “backs.”) I’m sure I missed a few, but I'll leave it to my beta readers to point out the next several hundred to me:)

And speaking of cutting words, I’ve cut some the past few weeks. Bob was at 59,000 words by the end of the first draft, up to 66,000 somewhere in the second, and now he sits at around 63,000 (even though this third draft has been largely about ADDING words). For the most part, the words I’ve cut have been unnecessary dialogue and action tags. (“Hi, my name is Krista, and I’m a dialogue and action tagger…”) Sometimes the characters just need to speak for themselves, you know?

Well, that’s all for me. Back to the manuscript I’ve been beta-reading for the past more-than-a-month…

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Bob Meets Wordle

Subtitle: “My Worst Fears Just Confirmed”

Wordle: Bob

There. I just said it. I have a just problem. It’s just that just is such an easy word to throw into a sentence--just about any sentence, really. In fact, if you just think about it, you could probably write a whole book in which just about every other word is “just.”

Ahem. So I finally finished plugging up all of Bob’s little holes. (That is, I finally finished filling in EVERY blank, so now there are no more missing words). But before I did the rest of my tweaks, I decided to plug him into Wordle to see what word cloud popped out. And “just” really popped.

As far as I understand it, Wordle takes whatever words you give it and arranges them artistically, making the most common words most prominent. It ignores words like “and” and “the”--pretty much all conjunctions, articles, pronouns, and minor prepositions--and focuses on the important ones. Like “just.”

So what other too-big words popped up? “Back,” “like,” “one,” “still,” “looked,” “right,” “thought,” and “know.” I plan to do a find-and-replace search for each of these words (and several other words and phrases I know I overuse), and then I think I’ll be ready for my first round of beta readers.

So what about you? If you plugged your WIP into Wordle, what words would you expect to pop?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Pertinent Posts Award

Thank you, Myrna, for this happy award. To claim it, I have to tell you what I look for in a blog, then pass it on to seven other bloggers.

My favorite blogs are all written by writers, and writers who are at the same stage of their writing careers as I am, more or less. Also, these writers write books I’d love to beta-read (and I’d love for them to beta-read my books). In fact, that’s pretty much my bright-line: Do I want to read this writer’s work--and do I want her (or him, but usually her) to read mine?

So here’s the list:

A.L. Sonnichsen of The Green Bathtub
Authoress of Miss Snark’s First Victim
Blanche King of Writing, Queries and the Occasional Headache
Josin L. McQuein of My Bloggish Blog Thing
Kayeleen Hamblin of Kayeleen’s Creation Corner
Kelly Bryson of Book Readress
Liesl of Writer Ropes and Hopes

(And just in case you missed the link at the beginning of the post, don’t forget to check out Myrna Foster of Night Writer, who gave me the award.)

There are a bunch of other great blogs out there--in fact, I’m sure you’re thinking of a few right now. So which writers’ blogs would make your list? I look forward to finding a few more good links in the comments…

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Catherine Drayton

Today’s interview features Catherine Drayton of InkWell Management. Prepare to be impressed by Ms. Drayton’s client list:) Happy reading!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

CD: I’m a trial lawyer by profession and worked in the areas of libel and copyright. When I moved to the United States I decided to take the opportunity to follow my passion for books. My first job was with a scout for foreign publishing houses and then I was lucky enough to be offered as job as an assistant to Richard Pine who taught me the business of agenting. I’ve been an agent at Pine Associates, which is now part of InkWell, since 1998.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy?

CD: I believe in quality not quantity! I’ve been very fortunate to represent some extraordinary writers such as Markus Zusak, John Flanagan, Beth Hoffman, Malla Nunn and Becca Fitzpatrick, so I think very carefully before I sign a new client.

KV: What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

CD: Honesty, professionalism and a sense of humor! I try to keep my list small so each client feels as if they are my top priority.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

CD: CLEO by Helen Gentry is an extraordinary memoir about the resilience of a mother and the healing power of a tiny kitten which has already been a bestseller in the UK, Australia and France.

In the more literary YA genre two novels: LEVERAGE by Joshua Cohen, an utterly gripping story about high school football and bullying (very few writers can really capture the voice of older teenage boys) and JASPER JONES by Craig Silvey which is an antipodean version of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD.

I’m quite drawn to humor in middle-grade novels so am excited to see how JACOB WONDERBAR AND THE COSMIC SPACE KAPOW by Nathan Bransford and ALICE-MIRANDA AT SCHOOL by Jacquie Harvey fair.

KV: What genres do you represent?

CD: Women’s fiction, literary fiction, crime, world literature, young adult, middle-grade and picture books.

KV: What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

CD: I don’t represent much non-fiction (except memoirs), thrillers or science fiction.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

CD: A well written query letter is wonderfully persuasive!

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

CD: A vivid imagination and an original and compelling voice.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

CD: By e-mail.

Thanks again, Ms. Drayton, for these responses. And to all you picture book writers, I apologize for neglecting the follow-up question--I didn’t realize until just now that I’d forgotten to ask whether she was interested in picture book writers who aren’t illustrators (although the general consensus among the other agents has been a resounding, “Yes!”). I’ll do better next time.

Thanks, everyone, for stopping by!

P.S. I had to look up antipodean, too, so I'll save you the trouble:) It means "on the other side of the world."

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

(Work-in-) Progress Report: Bob

Word count (to the nearest thousand): 65,000 (and falling)
Status: Reading him out loud
Attitude: Defeated

I thought I was almost there. I thought I was just about to send him off to betas. But now that I’m reading him out loud, I’m finding parts that are just AWFUL. They roll off the tongue about as well as pond scum. And it’s killing me. It’s killing me that I’m suddenly so far away again. It’s. Killing. Me.

Any advice? Encouragement? Commiseration?

(In lieu of flowers, please send chocolate ice cream.)

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Happy Birthday, I-gots!

Today is I-gots’s third birthday. (I-gots is what my son called himself up until a few months ago.) Actually, his birthday probably should have been yesterday, on the third anniversary of my last prenatal checkup. When we went in for that appointment, I was already a few days overdue and my stomach was, well, shrinking. I told the doctor I felt smaller, so he measured my belly. The week before, I’d been a thirty-six; that day, I was a thirty-four.

So he fired up the ultrasound, slathered the cold jelly across my stomach. Jabbed the wand into my side and, for a whole minute, maybe two, just stared at the screen. When I asked him what he was doing, he said, “I’m trying to find the amniotic sac, to measure the amount of amniotic fluid. But there’s so little left I can’t even get a reading.”

I asked him what that meant. He said, “It means we’re going to have a baby.”

We discussed the possibility of both a vaginal and Caesarean birth. I really wanted to deliver vaginally, and he was willing to let me try. But he warned us it might not work--since there was so little fluid left, and that fluid is kind of like the shock absorber during labor, the baby might not tolerate it.

A nurse guided us through a labyrinth of stairs and hallways to Labor and Delivery. Honey Bear went out to get our bag. (We’d sort of had a feeling something like this would happen). They checked me in, hooked me up to all the monitors. Started the Pitocin drip.

Pitocin, which is manufactured oxytocin (the hormone that triggers contractions), must have been invented by a sadist. Within an hour, I was contracting every two or three minutes--EVERY two or three minutes--for about a minute at a time. After a few hours, a nurse checked my progress. I’d only dilated to about a two.

More Pitocin, more contractions. No more dilatation. The nurse convinced the doctor to turn down the Pitocin for the night, so I could get some sleep. She even brought me Ambien (which didn’t work). I passed the night in a strange place between asleep and awake. Between excited and terrified.

By five the next morning, I’d been laboring for more than twelve hours--and I was up to about a three. I was frustrated. I was exhausted. And the doctor wanted to insert a more reliable fetal heart monitor, one that takes its reading directly from the baby’s scalp. I knew I couldn’t handle that without an epidural.

The needle went in; the pain came out. It was glorious. I was certain I could go another twelve or thirteen hours--and that’s precisely what I did.

By ten-thirty, I was a five, maybe a six. I felt hopeful. By two, I was a five, maybe a six. I felt less hopeful. By five, I was—you guessed it—still a five. (Nobody really bothered to call it a six anymore.) I’d been in labor for twenty-five hours. And I-gots’s heart rate was dropping.

The doctor was amazed he’d lasted as long as he had. Still, he strongly urged us to think about a C-section. We thought about it for all of two-point-three seconds. Of course we’d do the C-section. Of course we’d do whatever was best for the baby.

It’s a strange thing to sign on a dotted line that reads, in big, bold letters, “You know, what you’re about to do might kill you, but we really hope think it won’t.” And it’s a strange thing to let yourself be wheeled to the OR, when you’ve never had so much as a broken pinky, and sliced open wide enough to let a whole person through. Still, it didn’t seem strange in that moment; it seemed like the only thing to do.

A few minutes later, at five-twenty-seven in the evening, little I-gots was born. (And he was little, or at least skinny--six pounds, six ounces, and twenty-one inches long.) And my whole world changed. I’d never been a baby person, but suddenly, I was. I’d never felt the need to protect anything before, but all at once, I did.

But of all the things I gave him, I-gots gave me something, too. He gave me naptime, three or four hours every day that were well and truly mine. He gave me a chance to write (again). He gave me back my words.

And for that I’ll be forever grateful.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Lauren MacLeod

I’ve got another good one for you. (In fact, a few of these answers reminded me of a few of you specifically:) ) Today’s installment of “Interview with an Agent” features Lauren MacLeod of The Strothman Agency. See you on the other side.

KV: How did you get into agenting?

LM: I started as an assistant to Wendy Strothman at the Strothman Agency. I was so very lucky to get a position at a small agency where I could get my hands dirty and learn from someone as accomplished and knowledgeable about the industry as Wendy--she was and still is fantastic about showing me the ropes. I had some success finding projects in the slush pile and was eventually given the opportunity to start developing my own list.

In college I’d interned in the publicity department at Da Capo and then in the editorial department at Beacon Press--I think agenting is a pretty natural mix of those positions.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

LM: The Strothman Agency works closely with our clients to get a project ready for submission and we are always looking to help them build careers--not just sell one book. As an agent I’m always looking to fall in love with a manuscript--I’m really invested in the books and the authors I take on.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

LM: Very next will be REAL MERMAIDS DON’T WEAR TOE RINGS by Hélène Boudreau (December 1st from Sourcebooks Jabberwocky). I fell in love with the voice of this project from the query letter, so when the first few pages of the manuscript actually made me laugh out loud I was hooked. Funny takes a lot of skill and Hélène makes it look effortless.

In addition to being talented writers, all of my clients also have this indefinable charisma about them which I think is increasingly important as authors are being asked to step out from behind their desks.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

LM: I represent young adult and middle grade--I don’t take on chapter or picture books, though I will represent them if one of my YA/MG clients has something fantastic. I’m probably not the best for high fantasy.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

LM: Not following guidelines. There is so much information out there and so many agents writing really fantastically helpful blogs that there is no excuse for not doing your research before querying.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

LM: I’m always hungry for books that make me laugh and increasingly I’m looking for contemporary YA, especially romance.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

LM: I take both e-mail and snail mail submissions, but I prefer e-mail (strothmanagency@gmail.com). Our most accurate submission guidelines are always on our website at www.strothmanagency.com/submission-guidelines.

Thanks again, Ms. MacLeod, for these responses. I think we’ll all be checking out REAL MERMAIDS DON’T WEAR TOE RINGS in a few months--who could walk past that title and not pick up the book?

Best of luck to all you queriers! And have a great weekend, everyone!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The Every-day Writer

We’re back! And for the first time in my life, I got some significant writing done on a trip!

(And by significant, I mean I worked through about four pages of my second draft. Which gives you an idea of how much writing I’ve been able to do on trips in the past.)

Now I know what you’re thinking: “What’s up with the exclamation? What’s so exciting about working through four whole pages (snicker, snicker) on vacation?” Or maybe you’re thinking, “She’s writing? ON VACATION? Doesn’t she know she’s not supposed to go anywhere near a word processor on a trip?”

Both of which would be perfectly reasonable things to be thinking, I might add. But this is a huge achievement for me, because I’m what you might call an every-day writer.

Not an everyday writer, mind you. (That is, I hope my writing isn’t ordinary, common, or mundane). An every-day writer. Which means I write SOMETHING, usually my work-in-progress, pretty much every day. (I do take Sundays off, but that’s another post.) Every. Single. Day.

I’ve wondered why this is. I’ve wondered why I start getting cranky after two or three days of not-writing (and why, after two or three weeks, I’m an absolute ogre). And I’ve wondered why some writers, like Kiersten White, can write in these huge, creative spurts--so huge that they can take several weeks off and still stay on track--when I have to chug along, five hundred words every day, the Little Krista That Could.

I don’t know why we all write so differently (except that we’re all so different), but I think the reason I write every day is because it’s my release. It’s what I do to recharge, to stay sane. It’s what I do between rounds--of cooking, and cleaning, and diapering, and life. Writing is like my trainer, I guess. Patching up my split lips. Wiping the blood and the sweat from my eyes.

So what sort of writer are you? And is writing your trainer--or your taskmaster?

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Interview with an Agent: Molly Jaffa

I think you’re going to like this one:) Today’s interview features Molly Jaffa of Folio Literary Management. Enjoy!

KV: How did you get into agenting?

MJ: Ever since I was very young, my ideal day has consisted of setting up camp at a local bookstore. I’ve always loved to spend hours wedged between aisles, searching for “the one”--the next book that will reach out and grab my attention so much that I’m compelled to read the whole thing in one sitting.

In many ways, agenting is just like that, so it seemed like a natural career choice for me. I started out at Folio assisting the fabulous Jeff Kleinman, reading and working on manuscripts and proposals, and I absolutely fell head over heels in love with the job. I started taking on more responsibilities at the agency, becoming our Foreign Rights Assistant and then the Subsidiary Rights Associate, which means I handle things like audio book rights. I recently started taking on my own projects, and I’m helping to start our new Folio Junior division, an exciting new part of the agency dedicated solely to nurturing, developing, and selling children’s and YA titles.

KV: How would you summarize your personal agenting philosophy? What do you expect from an agent-author relationship?

MJ: I am my authors’ biggest advocate and their number one fan. I won’t take on a manuscript unless I find myself so excited about it that I’m eating, sleeping, and breathing that author’s work. Having that kind of passion for a book makes the agent-author relationship a really enjoyable, highly productive one.

I’m definitely an editorial agent, and will typically go through a manuscript multiple times before sending it out on submission. I want to get inside the characters’ heads, to get to know them as intimately as possible, so that the author and I can work as a team to make the manuscript the best it can be. I’ll do line-edits and bring up thinking points for the author and me to consider together. I’m all about open, honest communication, and I have a policy of complete transparency with my clients. For me, the agent-author relationship isn’t a one-book thing--I see myself as a facilitator, supporter, and idea-bouncer in a career-long partnership. I want to help my clients achieve their writing goals and dreams.

KV: What client work do you have coming out soon? What drew you to those writers and/or projects?

MJ: I’m just starting to build my list, and while I do have a few things in the pipeline, I’m signing clients very selectively. Right now I’m working on an upper-MG literary science fiction book by a debut author whose work I couldn’t be more thrilled about. The protagonist’s voice leapt off the page and straight into my head from the very beginning. I wanted to get to know her; to hang out with her. I couldn’t have put that book down if I tried. The author’s world-building is so gorgeously complete and fully realized, but it’s never done at the expense of the characters. The book strikes that perfect balance between compelling plot and strong character development, which isn’t easy to achieve.

KV: What genres do you represent? What genres do you definitely NOT represent?

MJ: I represent mainly middle grade and YA fiction, especially works with literary voices that challenge the reader to explore new ideas and modes of thinking. I love books set in another time or place, magical realism, multicultural fiction, “edgy” YA, verse novels, and almost anything that will make readers feel that the narrator understands them and what they’re going through.

I don’t represent picture books, “boy” books (no bathroom humor, etc.), or paranormal fantasy.

KV: You're interested in magical realism but not paranormal fantasy. I've always wondered what the difference is. How do you define them?

MJ: Good question! For me, the difference is this--magical realism is a style of writing that’s often highly lyrical, fantastical, and literary in tone. Writers like Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende (who are two of my favorite authors!) really epitomize the idea of magical realism in their works.

Paranormal fantasy, on the other hand, is typically a more commercial genre, and will feature characters who are vampires, werewolves, zombies, or something else that goes “bump” in the night. One genre isn’t better or more saleable than the other--it just comes down to a personal preference for me.

KV: What query pet peeves and/or pitfalls should writers avoid when querying you?

MJ: I request that authors please follow the clear submission guidelines I’ve laid out on my Folio page (www.foliolit.com/s-molly.php). I’d also really like to encourage writers to be specific in their queries. Don’t just tell me that you’ve written a book about love overcoming all odds and triumphing in the face of evil. You’re leaving me with a lot of unanswered questions (What kind of love? Who’s in love and why? What are “the odds”?) and not in a good way. You’ve got to tell me exactly what’s at stake for me (and your readership!) to be emotionally invested in the book’s outcome. I think that oftentimes, the more we try to “universalize” a book by putting it into broad thematic categories, the less relatable it becomes to readers.

KV: What are you looking for in a manuscript right now?

MJ: Send me something that leaps right into the story without too much exposition--middle grade and YA readers are unbelievably smart and savvy, and they don’t need all that explained to them. I love to see manuscripts that are honest in their portrayal of children, teens, and the very real issues they face. And above all, I’d love to see something fresh. Give me a manuscript that was written not to fit a trend or popular genre, but because the story was so darn compelling that you had to share it with someone. If you feel that way, there’s a good chance I’ll want to share it with someone, too.

KV: What’s the best way to query you?

MJ: I only accept e-mailed queries, and I’ll always respond within two weeks--though I usually respond much, much more quickly.

Thanks again, Ms. Jaffa, for this. So much of it really resonated with me--and it probably resonates with a lot of you readers, too. Be sure to send her a query, then, just as soon as you check out the submission guidelines she mentioned above.

Have a wonderful Thursday, everyone! I’ll be out of town until sometime next week, so I may not see all of your comments right away, but I’d still love to hear from you. And I’m sure Ms. Jaffa would, too:)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

De-vilifying the Adverb

Adverbs get a bad rap. Don’t use them, we hear. They’ll make you look like a novice. If your first page has an adverb, an agent will never request more material. And so on, and so on. But the truth is, there’s more to the no-adverb rule than just, “Don’t use them, ever.”

First off, what IS an adverb? That telltale “ly” ending is (usually) a dead giveaway, but there's more to it than that. According to the good book (also known as the dictionary), an adverb is--get ready--“a word belonging to one of the major form classes in any of numerous languages, typically serving as a modifier of a verb, an adjective, another adverb, a preposition, a phrase, a clause, a sentence, expressing some relation of manner or quality, place, time, degree, number, cause, opposition, affirmation, or denial, and in English also serving to connect and to express comment on clause content.”

Phew. So, to sum up, an adverb is a word that modifies another word. (As I used to tell my middle school students, if the word modifies a noun, it’s an adjective. If it modifies any other kind of word, it’s an adverb.)

Well, that’s great, right? Adverbs modify other words, so they provide more information and add dimension…right? So what the heck is so wrong with them?

What’s wrong with them is that they often add unnecessary dimension--that is, the adverb is a weaker word than an alternative, or it’s redundant. Consider the following examples:

“Hurry up,” he said quietly.
She really liked corndogs.
He walked carefully past the principal’s office.

In the first sentence, “said quietly” is weaker than “whispered” or “hissed.” Same thing with the other sentences: Instead of saying “really liked,” why not say “loved”? Instead of “walked carefully,” why not “tiptoed” or “crept”?

As for redundant, check out this example (which could be a direct quote from SEE THE SAMELINGS’s first draft, I might add):

“Hurry up,” he whispered softly.

“Softly” adds absolutely nothing to this sentence, as a whisper is soft by definition. (Yeah, it took me a whole draft to figure that out.) You can ax it without losing any of the sentence’s meaning.

And that’s the litmus test for deciding whether an adverb is worthwhile: Does it add unique meaning to the sentence, meaning you can’t get from any other word (or from any fewer words)?

Consider this passage:

Daniel shoved his hands in his pockets. “Well, uh, thanks for coming.”

Clara couldn’t meet his gaze. “I had a nice time.”

He kicked the porch step. “Guess I’ll see you on Monday?”

“Yeah, sure. Monday. Mr. Monte’s class.”

“Mr. Monotony, you mean.”

She giggled, too loudly. “See you on Monday, then.”


Horror of horrors! TWO adverbs in a four-word sentence, “She giggled, too loudly,” and right in a row. At first glance, you might be tempted to give both “too” and “loudly” a good slash with your red pen. But look again. If you take away “too loudly,” the sentence’s meaning changes. And the whole passage loses some of its awkward giddiness.

So adverbs themselves aren’t the villains, but (some of) the situations in which we use them are. The trick is to figure out which situations are adverb-approved, and which aren’t. And nobody--nobody--can decide that but you.