21 Harsh Truths from the Greats #17

17. Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very;’ your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain

Original Post

I’ve run across this before, and I love it every time. Twain was such a character- and it doesn’t help that I always see the claymation character I grew up with reading this to me.

Silliness aside,

There’s something to be said for the war on adverbs. On the one hand, it can make for “lazy” writing. On the other hard, I don’t think all writing needs to be the carefully constructed work of prose-art that we might sometimes strive for. Some scenes deserve to be stained glass- and some scenes need to the walls that hold the glass up. Only you can decide which scenes are what kind.

The point I think I’m trying to make is think about the overall flow of your work, not just scene to scene. How does this bit tie into the whole. Does it need to be precision crafted, or would you reader prefer to breeze through this bit so they can get to the part they’re waiting for? It’s part of the “know your audience” debate- do you write for them or write for you? Either way, some decisions have to be made, and I think, sometimes, using “lazy” writing can get you where you need to go faster. And I think sometimes, that’s the right answer.

But whatever you do, please don’t use unnatural words just to avoid saying “very”. If the voice of your piece should say very, leave the rathers and quites and exceptionallys out, please. Nothing is worse than reading something that is trying to be more than it is, just because some other writer somewhere told the author they said X word too much. Balance people, it’s all about balance. Take this rule, and every other rule, with a grain of salt. Be human, write human, and you’ll be good.


4 thoughts on “21 Harsh Truths from the Greats #17

  1. I was wondering about the word “very” the other day. I was trying to think of words to use instead and they didn’t seem to flow with the work. I ended up using it because the person speaking is a simple person. They wouldn’t use grand words. I will keep in mind how often I use it, but it is a descriptive word for a reason.


    • Exactly. The catch is to simply be mindful about how you’re using it – if the sentence could be strong with restructuring, go for it, but simply dropping very every time to you see it isn’t always the best idea

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Very important… and I don’t have much to add or respond with other than to say… I’m glad I’m not the only one who hears Claymation Mark Twain as the voice of all Mark Twain quotes… 🙂


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