Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Chicken-Sh*t Adverbs - by Phil Phantom

Chicken Shit Adverbs
and Tired-Assed Cliche's
From Phil Phantom’s: Guide to Writing Good Trash"

I know, you hate to think of your writing as trash, but if done well, others will. If done poorly, your magnificent creation is just crap, shit, or garbage. Excellent trash can rise to the level of good shit, but you and your good shit will never be studied in English Lit. As for riches, sure, but it helps if you are wealthy when you start.

Chicken-Shit Adverbs
An adverb modifies a verb, adjective, or another adverb by expressing time, place, manner, degree, etcetera. An adverb answers the how, where, when, or how much of an action:
He ran. (no adverb)
How did he run?
He ran swiftly. (Swiftly is a chicken-shit adverb)

He ran where?
He ran up. (Up is an adverb)

How much did he run?
He ran constantly. (Constantly is an adverb - a chicken-shit adverb)

Simple verbs - run, walk, spoke, threw, puked - don't tell much. They describe an action, but in general terms. Take run for example. How many "runs" can you think of? How about: jog, dash, sprint, dart, lope, canter, gallop, bolt, double-time, quick-step, chase, flee, fly, flew...

Run needs an adverb, as do most other generic action verbs.

A descriptive action verb needs no adverb.
Lazy, shiftless, sloth creatures without spines use simple verbs and then tack on an adverb to make sense--if they even bother doing that. Are we sloth creatures absent a spine simply because we write trash?

Damn right, we're not!

We don't need no stinkin' adverbs. 

Do you know why?

Because we are sentient beings with a brain, spinal cord, and opposing thumb, that's why. We have the ability to seek out and find the precise verb that best describes the action. We won't settle for run. Run is for wimps and pansies. Same goes for all those other verbs that need adverbs. We won't associate with those bastards, will we? Fuck no!

Now, let's talk about those chicken-shit adverbs - the LY adverbs: slowly, quickly, softly, gently, lovely, greatly, swiftly, gingerly, doggedly, dastardly, stinkily, comically, etcerly., etcerly., etcerly...

Take any common adjective and tack on an LY, you got yourself a chicken-shit adverb. Why is it chicken-shit? LY adverbs are chicken-shit because they waste words and are easy to come up with.

Just take a simple verb, a simple modifier, tack on the LY, you got great literature--right?

Bullshit! Any pin-headed geek can do that.

Why search for the perfect verb like sprint, when you can just write, "run swiftly?" Why think and work to come up with "castigate" when all you have to do is write, "berate harshly?"

Trash writers never take the well-traveled path, the easy trail, the freeway. We slug it out in the trenches, break trails, smash through obstacles, plow through barriers, and bowl over monoliths to accomplish our objective.

And what is our objective?

To communicate effectively and make people cum.

I know, you're thinking, "Shouldn't that be expressed without relying on a chicken-shit adverb?" This was a test. Come up with one by next class when we tackle tired-assed clichés.

Tired Assed Clichés
(Well, did you come up with a good action verb for communicate effectively? Yeah, me neither. Fuck it; let's move on.)

Now, we get down to the nitty gritty of good writing. We're going to talk about metaphors, similes, and same-sames. When you leave this class today, you will be changed.
This lesson gets to the real spice of writing. This is the garnish of the writing entree, the icing on the writing cake, the head on the mug of writing beer, the fruit in the written fruit cake. I'm talking about same-sames - metaphors and similes.

Metaphors are words or phrases that stand in place of other words or phrases. Shit is the most widely used metaphor in the English language, and because that word is so widely used, shit should be treated like the whore she is: used where no one can see you, and never put anything in writing when dealing with a widely-used whore.

The following passage is a perfect example of shit writing:
I set my shit next to Marty's shit, then we shot the shit until some shitbird stumbled through, the shit hit the fan, and I got the shit knocked out of me. I never said shit, but here I was taking shit off this dumb-shit talking shit about us leaving our shit where he could trip over the shit. No shit!

This is what should have been written:
I set my duffle bag next to Marty's rucksack and we engaged in small talk until an altercation ensued. I was accosted by a total stranger. I never said a word to this idiot who I took physical abuse from, and all because he blamed me because he doesn't look where he walks. I'm serious!

Now, I know you're all saying you understood both, and some are, no doubt, thinking the first example is more colorful, more true to life, and more expressive. That's because the first draws heavily on metaphor, one metaphor, "shit."

In that passage, shit stood in place of duffle bag, rucksack, small talk, altercation, an injury, a nonverbal response, a physical reply, an idiot, an accusation, belongings, and a declaration. That's a lot of shit for one word to carry, but shit can carry that load in speech.

Even when written, we take clues and cues from the context in which the writer uses shit, but a speaker has the advantage of gesticulation and expression to help communicate effectively.

We know that some shit is good and some shit is bad just by the look on the speaker's face or the inflection in the voice.

Some people say "Shit" and look like they need to wipe their mouth.

Others say "Shit" and make you wish you had some.

When we speak, we all know our shit and never get our shit mixed up, because our shit is straight when we talk shit.

Writing shit, or any other over-used metaphor, is a whole nuther' can of squealie worms.
The more representations a metaphor has, the greater are the chances for ineffective communication. If you write shit and confuse your readers they will stop reading your shit. If readers stop reading your shit, you'll be back in the crap gallery. So, what's the rule on used metaphors?

Leave tired metaphors to crude, casual bullshit sessions.

Now, let's talk about good metaphors, the spice that's so nice, the hallmark of excellent writing. A good metaphor is one that fits perfectly and is unfamiliar. A good metaphor is like a diamond in your shoe. It gives you pause, makes you stop, makes you look closer, then when you discover what you have - elation!

Like a found quarter, a new metaphor enriches you. Furthermore, you feel smart. You figured it out. You got it. You made the connection that others missed. You're a smart cookie - sharp, bright, quick, alert. Nothing gets past you, and you feel a kinship with the writer because you think alike.

Great writers plant gems in their writing the way great chefs place garnish on great dishes. We don't eat for garnish nor read for metaphorical gems, but when we notice them, we feel enriched. We are never too rich to quickly stoop and snatch a shiny quarter, nor too old to feel like a child again once we have it.

Similes and other same-sames are also metaphors. 

They stand in place of something else that they represent. A simile usually starts with the word, "Like," because similes represent by saying what something is like.

 He flew like a bat out of Hell.
 She swam like a fish.
There is also the "Than" or "As" simile:
  Faster than a speeding bullet.
  Slower than a turtle.
  Slick as a slug.
  Sharp as a tack.
Most similes are very tired, and in most writing, similes should be avoided like shit. If you can come up with a new simile, your reader will love you and think you clever. A new simile is like a gem in the chewing gum beneath your seat.

Don't be looking under your seats, you morons. If you find gum, you put it there. Pay attention.

The rule for writing similes is: dance with her only if she's a virgin.

by Phil Phantom

Note from Me

My personal opinion is:

Sometimes a Cliché works!
Sometimes an Adverb works too!

Don't Fix it if it Ain't Broke! Just be moderately aware of what you're doing and make damned sure you're doing it for an intended EFFECT.

DOMINATE your writing! Don't just take any phrase that walks in and looks nice. Make those words and phrases WORK for their place in your story. Don't just put it in the hole because it fits and it feels nice; put it in the hole because it has character and THRUST!

You don't need no lay-abouts and wastrels in your stories, you need something that is willing to earn its rent while making your writing feel good all over.

But don't forget that the average phrase can occasionally be much easier to live with.

Morgan Hawke

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