“Heed this advice now!” she warned desperately

Note from Kris: I am in France this week so am handing over the reins to my co-author and sister. Take it away, Kelly!

By PJ Parrish

I was sitting in a restaurant the other day when my friend and fellow author, Tom Swift, happened to stop by and ask if he could join me.

“Yes,” I said cordially.

He sat down, his eyes slipping secretly to the paperback book lying wantonly near my wine glass. “I see,” he said insightfully, “that you are reading a popular author.”

“Yes,” I said affirmatively, nodding energetically.

“Do you like the book?” he asked inquiringly.

I wasn’t sure how to answer. Both of us had just returned from SleuthFest, which was geared for aspiring writers. There was a lot of good advice about plot structure, the differences between thrillers and mysteries, and character building.

My friend wisely picked up on my silence. “So,” he said flatly. “I take it you don’t like the book?”

“It was hard to read,” I said effortlessly.

“In what way?” he asked inquisitively.

“Well, I’m not sure what it was,” I said perplexedly.

“How was the plotting?” he asked ploddingly.

“The plot was okay. But it kind of fell apart toward the end,” I added brokenly.

“That’s too bad,” he said sympathetically. “Anything else?”

“The characters were okay but kind of cardboard,” I added woodenly.

“Really?” he said shockingly.

“Yes,” I acknowledged.

“But the book was a New York Times bestseller,” he interjected suddenly, jabbing at the book pointedly. “You are suppose to love the bestsellers. This one got great blurbs. And all the reviewers loved it.”

“Well,” I said deeply. “I just don’t know what it was about the book that I found tiresome but there was something.”

Tom Swift gave me a nod of his head, shaking it up and down, and then added a small, understanding smile, displaying his Hollywood teeth. “Well,” he said philosophically. “Some books are just like that.”

And with that, Tom sauntered away, slowly and casually disappearing into the misty dark inky black night.

I was left with my thoughts — and that bad book. I was thinking about all the good advice I had heard at SleuthFest. Really good stuff, even a great debate about talent versus technique. But one thing kept coming back to me — the thing all the good authors stressed. Robert Crais had said it best in his keynote speech: “Adverbs are not your friend.”

He didn’t say it lightly. He didn’t it dramatically. He didn’t even say it succinctly. He just said it.

11 thoughts on ““Heed this advice now!” she warned desperately

  1. But! I said frantically, you don’t expect me to fruitlessly and fully narrate my character’s actions when I can simply tag them fully and fulsomely!

    I’m reading two self-pubbed books right now. One is a page-clicker that has cost me sleep.

    The other is okay. The characters are over-the-top, but not out of control. However, if they don’t stop smirking, grimacing, grinning, and (omg), giggling, the book may go back on the virtual shelf to stay. I hate the word “grin” and want it dead with fire.

    I don’t think this is what the writer wants me obsessing on in her medical-apoc book.

    As a huge fan of Larry McMutry, I am firmly in camp “said” with zero adverbs. On a short piece, my editor recently asked me to change a couple to “asked” and it took some thought on my part before I made the change.


  2. I read this trepidatiously, but willingly.

    The poor adverb is the Rodney Dangerfield of grammar. It’s true that he should largely (!) be eschewed in DIALOGUE. The dialogue itself, and the accompanying action, should make clear what’s going on. Yet there are some occasions when he can step in and help and then go back to the bench. For example, it may not be clear that someone is saying something softly, and it’s critical to know that. Such occasions are rare, and should be. But every now and then an adverb can be used. Judiciously.

  3. Kelly –

    I appreciate you post – funny and informative. I an desperately heeding your warning and JSB’s judiciously added point. I look forward to more informative posts form you.

    I believe I noted another style issue you ‘subtly’ lampooned in your piece. The use of past/passive voice characterized by an abundance od “was”.

    I find this challenging. John Gilstrap referenced the issue in a previous post. I hope that you or another of the KZ writing ninjas will address this challenge down the road sometime. (he requested shamelessly)

  4. “To know and not to do is not to know.” Once again, I felt a sinking feeling as a Kill Zone contributor restated the obvious, the obvious that I so obviously did not observe. Terri, I grimaced as I read your disdain for smiling, smirking, grinning, and giggling too. I knew better, I really did, but did it anyway. Looks like my next project will be to fire up the find function on MS Word and excise those pesky rascals.

  5. OW!!!

    I sprained my tongue on that last ‘-ly’!

    at some in the reading of your post, my mental narrator started reading it in the voice of Daffy Duck and my afternoon just became a little happier.

  6. Yay! I made it this time! Whew…last time I tried to post here I got Google in French and my French isn’t good enuf to jump thru their hoops. I am with James on adverbs in that mostly I kill them but once in a blue moon they come in handy as in “said softly.” But it takes a lot for me to use one.

  7. Your piece offers an amusing example of the misuse of adverbs. I try to avoid even “he said” and “She said” by using character tags and action.

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