What's your position on similes and adverbs? Are they in fact text-poison? (Nathan Bransford suggested so today...but you are the one whose authority on style rivals that of Emily Post on the proper placement of soup spoons). I hate the thought of giving up my similes. And adverbs.
While Evil Editor trusts his minions like an astrologer trusts his star chart, I felt I should take a look at the post in question before responding. What the post says about similes is:
Some writers use them to tremendous effect, some wonderful writers even use them often, and I would not take their similes away from them. This doesn't apply to everyone.It does, however, apply to you, so rest easy.
Apparently Bransford's source for his anti-simile stance was an MFA grad with whom he'd been drinking--perhaps a bit too heavily?--and who declared that she'd been told in writing school that you get "one or two similes per book. No more. That's it."
Now, ignoring the obvious question: What the hell is "writing school"? and also ignoring the fact that someone who's been drinking can hardly be expected to remember accurately anything she was told in writing school, let's look at this quote:
Do you see yonder cloud that's almost in shape of a camel?
By the mass, and 'tis like a camel, indeed.
Methinks it is like a weasel.
It is backed like a weasel.
Or like a whale?
Very like a whale.
What's that, four or five similes in six lines? I'm too lazy to look it up, but I wouldn't be surprised to find that the passage continues:
Or perhaps like a tortoise shell?
Somewhat, but more like a big blob.
Wait, I have it! Like the 13th green at Augusta.
You may not recognize the passage because I left off the speakers' names, but here are some more similes from the same book:
What a piece of work is a man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god!
Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore, So do our minutes hasten to their end.
No, I'm not quoting lyrics from Hair and the intro to Days of Our Lives. All these similes and dozens more appear in what was once considered by many the greatest book ever written,* Hamlet.
Here's another list of similes. Recognize them?
a single dim ray like the thread of the spider shot out from the crevice
His room was as black as pitch
there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton.
It increased my fury as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.
Four similes. All from the same book? No, all from the same puny 2100-word short story called "The Tell-Tale Heart."
Last year, you may recall, I offered my editing services in the Brenda Novak Juvenile Diabetes Auction. I mention this for two reasons:
1. If I had told the author of the winning book to cut his similes to a maximum of two, the word count would have dropped from 100,000 to 23,000. Instead I talked him down to two per page.
2. I'm offering the same "prize" this year. I'm also offering the four-pack of Evil Editor books, all autographed, so if the reason you haven't bought the books is because it wasn't tax deductible, now's your chance. Well, not now; the auction begins May 1.
Emphasizing Mr. Bransford's original point (namely that if your similes make your book richer and clearer, similize away), if you've read the "bad analogy" writing exercises on this blog, and found yourself admiring the literary quality of the similes, you may be someone who should lay off. But if your similes rival in quality those in Evil Editor's contribution to the recent Valentine's Dinner writing exercise, you should be dispensing similes like change from one of those cash registers that sends your coins down a channel and into a metal container shaped like a hollowed out half of a yo-yo.
Moving on to adverbs, they're words. Of course you can use them. Profusely. Abundantly. Copiously. But not excessively. The problem comes when the verb has been modified already by the context in which it's used, and you then re-modify it. For example:
"GET YOUR FUCKING HANDS OFF ME, YOU BASTARD!!!!!!!" she screamed loudly.
I pretty much had the volume figured out long before you clarified it.
Try this one, though:
"Would you look at my manuscript, Evil Editor?" she asked reverently.
Here again we don't need "reverently" because it's understood that anyone speaking to EE would do so reverently.
Okay, but how about, "I'm having an affair," she said softly.
You could say "she whispered," but what if she didn't whisper? You could leave off the adverb, but then we wouldn't know whether she was meekly confessing or whether she said it mockingly or gloatingly or in Croatian. Sometimes we want more than the verb. Of course we could change the verb to she mocked or she gloated or she Croated, but it gets a bit tiresome when authors come up with a different word for "said" every time someone speaks. Variety is the spice of writing. Replace "said" with "declared" once in a while (twice per book; that's it; no more), but also, once in a while, you have EE's permission to write, "said confidently."
* until Novel Deviations 3 came out recently . . . and ND 3 contains more than 40 similes!