Grammar Guru: The LY Rule

It’s a habit that the budding writer is apt to make. In fact, many writers can put years into writing without learning a very important rule of a proper writing technique I like to call the ly rule. Have you ever noticed how saturated yours or others works are with words like gladly, fairly, or brightly? I know my own writing for years was a place were all ly words went to die slow and agonizing deaths. It turned into a real grave yard that hit just about every sentence in my writing. You  might be wondering what’s the problem. I mean writing is about being descriptive. Someone says that a piece needs to piece more descriptive then you just add a few more ly words, right? Well, not so much.

Stories happen to be more descriptive when you use less adverbs and adjectives instead of more. It’s all about being as specific as possible and showing your reader what’s going on without resorting to the ly. I won’t lie, the ly’s are very hard to get rid of and it really is more than an editing thing, it’s a way of  writing. If you can learn to write now without resorting to ly’s or keeping them to a minimum, then your writing will be better overall. If you can master this rule, you will be light years a head of other writer’s. 

EXAMPLE 1:
She cooked over a hot stove and constantly pushed her blond sweat-matted hair out of her face as she stirred the pot. 

So let’s rewrite it without the ly word constantly…

She cooked over a hot stove, pushing her blond sweat-matted hair out of her face for what seemed the hundredth time, while stirring the pot.

OR

She cooked over the hot stove as sweat-matted hair obstructed her vision. Anna swiped it back cursing her blond strands, while stirring the pot.

If you notice taking out the ly constantly you add more description than if you’d left constantly in the sentence. What does constantly actually do for your sentence. Not much, constantly is an ambiguous word. It really doesn’t tell the reader much at all and leaves a lot for interpretation. This is actually the case for most ly words. Words like quickly, darkly, considerably… How quickly? Did she run as fast as a tiger, or was she faster than a speeding bullet? Big difference right? How darkly? Was the room as dark as a full moon night, or darker than the eye of a black hole? How considerably? Did he walk as far as the mail box down the drive or walk a full marathon? Are you starting to see a pattern here? If you can be specific, do it, because it will add the extra punch to your story that will set yours above others.

Let’s do another sentence for good measure…

EXAMPLE 2:
He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.  “Mr. and Mrs. Black, I hope your trip back home was reasonably safe.”
You can write this sentence a few ways… 
You can take the world reasonably out all together and say…
He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.  “Mr. and Mrs. Black, I hope your trip back home was a safe one?” 
 OR
You could leave it and put emphasis on the word reasonably with italics to show a sarcastic tone…  
He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.  “Mr. and Mrs. Black, I hope your trip back home was reasonably safe.” 
…The ly serves a purpose of bringing attention to the word, which in this case you want. 
OR
He shook Robert’s hand and then Tanya’s.“I know the mountains this time of night is a dangerous place. I hope it wasn’t too perilous for you both.”

So you see there are multiple ways that you can avoid the ly words or make them work for you. It’s a matter of knowing what context you want to bring to your story. You’ll also notice that when taking out ly words you usually have to use more than one word to replace that word. So yes, it will up your word count overall to take them out, but the benefits will far outweigh this. In fact you may find that the more you write the more concise you tend to be. 
It isn’t possible to take out ALL ly words, but you should try to get rid of as many as possible. I struggle with this ly rule all the time and often find myself having to go back many times to make corrections. So believe when I say, this is a rule that ALL writer’s have a problem with, but it’s a battle worth the fight. The next time you sit down to write ask yourself this. How many ly words do you think you could cut?
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