Overkilling with Adverbs

Pay close attention,

Read on carefully,

Understand the nuances carefully,

Apply the knowledge deliberately.

But, please, oh please!

Do not overuse the adverb callously!

An adverb can be defined as a word that modifies a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or even a whole sentence. Adverbs are used to intensify, amplify or turn down meaning. For example, literally, simply, absolutely, rapidly, swiftly, sort of, kind of, fast, almost, better, etc.  What we need to learn is to use adverbs cautiously: their misuse and overuse makes our writing cluttered! 

1. The most common misuse of an adverb is to reiterate obvious information.

Harry Potter laughed happily as the majestic Hogwarts castle rose from behind the clouds. He was absolutely determined to learn magic as a wizard. His thoughts were rudely interrupted by Hermione, who whispered quietly in his ears.

If Harry laughed, did it not denote his happiness?

Did determination not imply absolute resolve?

To interrupt someone is to act rudely, right? And to whisper is to speak softly!

The use of happily, absolutely, rudely and quietly is redundant in the given sentences. Adverbs have their place, but often we can improve our writing by pruning unnecessary adverbs. 

2. The next thing to remember is that weak verb-adverb combinations should be revised with stronger verbs.

Ron ran swiftly towards the Whomping Willow’ can become ‘Ron sprinted towards the Whomping Willow.’ 

Shining in her ball gown, Hermione came down the stairs effortlessly  is better described as ‘Shining in her ball gown, Hermione glided downstairs.’  

3. Use adverbs to change a verb's, an adverb’s  or an adjective’s meaning to the reader. Some adverbs add stress: Instantly perceiving Dudley to be a bully, Hagrid decided to rescue Harry from his dismal living situation. Some adverbs paint a clearer picture: Hagrid was a reassuringly solid confidant. 

4. When it comes to adverbs, it’s all about balance. Here are some simple tricks to using/deleting an adverb:

• Remove an adverb if it does not change the meaning of a sentence. 

• If the verb or adjective works great without the adverb, remove it.

• Use the adverb if it adds valuable meaning to a verb, adjective, an adverb or the meaning of a sentence.

• Be wary of using very and really often: they are two of the most overused and misused adverbs.

American author Stephen King’s comparison of using adverbs to having dandelions in your lawn is  precise—one dandelion looks beautiful, but many are like weeds that can overtake the lawn. Using the right adverb is like embellishing your writing with a sparkling jewel, but too many and they can become annoying and distracting. 

 

 

 

Advanced Punctuation Marks Simplified

Less is the new more! 

“We went to Disneyland last week, and it was super fun! My sister, her face all beaming, did a little happy dance when she met Cinderella, and a laugh riot ensued.  On the whole, the delectable desserts, whimsical rides and Disney princesses can make any kid happy.”

Oh, that’s wonderful news, but aren’t you tired of using coordinating conjunctions and commas all the time?  Why let your sentences ramble when thoughtful pauses can say so much more?  

We went to Disneyland last week; it was super fun!  My sister—her face all lit up—did a little happy dance when she met Cinderella; a laugh riot ensued. On the whole, Disneyland has everything a kid needs to be happy: delectable desserts, whimsical rides and Disney princesses. 

In this article, we are going to familiarise ourselves with the tricky quartet: semicolon (;), colon (:), em dash (—), and parenthesis (). See the difference these little superstars can make to your writing.

Semicolons

Which is the most powerful punctuation mark? The most obvious answer would be the full stop. But which comes second? Some would say commas because they are extensively used, but semicolons disagree. Like a comma, a semicolon tells a reader to pause, but a semicolon is a stronger punctuation mark than a comma. A semicolon (;) separates grammatically independent sentences that are closely related. 

Example: Amber always slept with the light on; she was terrified of the dark.

You can also use the semicolon to separate items in a list when some of those items already contain commas. For example, ‘I bought red, juicy strawberries, beautiful, ripe mangoes, and tasty bananas.’ 

The sentence is confusing; isn’t it? It’s tiring to figure out how many items were bought since there are a lot of commas involved. ‘I bought red, juicy strawberries; beautiful, ripe mangoes; and tasty bananas.’ See?  It is a lot better this way.

Dashes (em dashes)

The first thing to know when using dashes is not to overuse them. It will make your sentences difficult to follow. Also, do not confuse them with hyphens—they are shorter lines and are generally used to indicate connections between words (full-time, far-off, ice-cold etc.) Undoubtedly, em dashes are extremely useful. Let’s take a look at some ways to include dashes in your writing:

a) Em dashes can be used instead of parentheses (). This way, more focus is given to the information between the em dashes. Em dashes are preferable in formal writing; they are fancier than parentheses.  

Example:  Timmy (his face all grim) walked towards the principal’s office. Here, the information provided within the parenthesis is not getting enough attention; therefore, we can replace it with em dashes. Timmy —his face all grim—walked towards the principal’s office.

b) You can use em dashes to indicate sentence introductions and conclusions.

Example: Food, shelter, safe drinking water —for many people even the basic amenities are still a dream.

c) Em dashes can also be used to break up dialogue.

Example: “I—I’m scared; let’s go back,” Jack whispered in a quivering voice.

Parenthesis 

A parenthesis is a curvy punctuation mark used to set off information that isn’t crucial to the main topic, like a second-thought or a funny joke. When they come in pairs, they are called parentheses; you must have both an opening and a closing parenthesis. Whatever the information inside the parenthesis, it should not be grammatically fundamental to the sentence. Also, overuse of parentheses can be distracting to readers.

Let’s look at some examples:

a) To show acronyms: National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

b) To add extra information: The talent show will be held next week (on Tuesday).

c) To clarify preceding words: The bird sang in a high-pitched sound that is idiosyncratic (peculiar) to its species.

d) To enclose a comment (informal): Mary merrily made her way to the kitchen (I reckon it is a sugar-rush).

Colons

A colon is used to introduce phrases, lists and elaborations. It can also be used to introduce a quotation. Colons follow clauses that can exist on their own (independent clauses or complete sentences). 

Example: This book has everything I need: adventure, mystery, and comedy.  

Here’s an example of a colon introducing a single item: There is only one thing that can make me ecstatic:  ice cream. 

One of our previous blog posts— ‘The misunderstood Colon’— covers everything you need to know about colons. Check it out here.

We have come to the end of our article. So now do you know how to use your advanced punctuation marks? 

Does Your Story Have These Eight Mistakes?

Do you sometimes feel that brilliant story ideas in your head fail to translate that well on paper? Do you think that somewhere along the path of writing a story, you stumble and falter so that the result is far from what you had imagined? Worry not, we’re here to help you. The first step is to understand what you’re doing wrong. Let’s look at some common story writing mistakes:

1. Unexciting openings:

It is best to avoid unoriginal story openers: Once upon a time, One day, There was a boy called, John lived in London, I woke up early morning etc. Readers are familiar with such usual starters. Avoid the obvious. Instead, begin with a catchy dialogue, a scene of surprise, a single sentence that captures the entire mood of the story etc. 

2. Dull details:

John ran over the ledge. The ledge was made my Mr Robert last summer. John wanted to catch the bus via the shortcut. “Hurry up, we are leaving!” bellowed the horn. 

Do we really need to know about the history of the ledge? No, right? If it is not included, it wouldn’t affect the story. Such superfluous details are best avoided to save time and let your story have only the necessary ingredients. Your readers don’t need to know each detail about the corners of a house or minute aspects of a character’s appearance. 

3. Rambling description: 

John, who was four years old, ran his fingers in and out of his hair, which had the colour of dark shade of orange, as he woke up puzzled and in a state of confusion.  

This is a long and winding version of a character’s description. But it can be made better:

Little John, aged four, brushed his ginger hair confusedly as he woke up.

The ideas remain the same, but the phrases are compressed to describe details without lag. This helps you use good vocabulary and save time (so that you can quickly move on to the main events in your story).

4. It is obvious, duh! 

I couldn’t wake up early since I watched a movie deep into the previous night, which forced my body to take more rest, and that is why I am gloomy today.

The sentence above can be made concise:  I stayed up late into the night for a movie yesterday.

Certain details are already understood and mentioning them will only drag the story. Your primary concern should be to reach the ‘conflict’ in your story. In other words, you don’t need to mention that trains run on rail tracks, the bird is flying in the sky, we need air to breathe etc. 

5. Pointless repetition:

It is true that repetition can be good in some cases; however, the trick is to know where it is good and where it is not. 

The forest was full of green, nothing but green.

Be careful. You fall, we all fall!” Ellie screamed as she paddled the boat.

These instances are effective. On the other hand, look at the sentences given below:

James was ecstatic, elevated and exhilarated to open the present. (When one adjective can do the job, why use three?)

Agatha wanted to bake. Agatha did not have enough ingredients. Agatha started looking for money. (Yes, we know you’re talking about Agatha every time, so just use ‘she’ instead) 

Repetition can make or break your story. Done right, it can make ideas or images memorable. Meaningless repetition, however, can be annoying to the point that no one wants to read the story.

6. A crowded plot: 

Is there more than one problem or villain in your story? Do you spend an entire page describing the setting or the main character? If you nodded ‘yes’ to any of these, then you might have come across the need to rush the ending as well.

Jason stopped running from the stranger. He turned to an alley and saw the serious swamp monster. The ghosts loomed over the building in search of him. The valley of shadows was haunted by unimaginable horrors. Jason ran like the wind. He got to his home, locked the door, and pulled the blanket over him. He went to sleep.

Notice how the text keeps jumping from one problem to another. None of the problems are solved and there is no connection between the places Jason travels through. The lack of emotive reactions from both Jason and the evil beings is confusing as well. Solution? Follow this method: one story = one theme. This will help you in exams where you have to finish your story within a given time.  

7. An over-ambitious plot:

You are planning to forge a super story: more than four characters, a fantasy world full of problems, references that only you know, unsolved motives and unexplained happenings. It is wise to avoid such complications. Most probably, your reader will feel as if they have opened page 40 of an unread book: it will be utterly confusing. 

Aang could hardly bend the air when he set on the path to become the Avatar. Who would have thought soul-bending would become his ultimate power? Kushiro was eager to rule the Fire Kingdom after he had beaten his brothers with the help of Korra. The steel-bending powers of Reinhart woke up the same day…

The story above is linked to Avatar: The Last Airbender (the animated series).  If you’re confused by the details, the same will go for your readers: the plot elements are hard to understand. Not to mention that the sheer number of characters and events are hardly relatable. Too many events can be difficult to tie up or resolve under a given time limit. Chances for plot holes are substantial. Simple yet creative story ideas work best in exams. 

8. Bland ending:

This is the place where you can do your worst or best to the story. Apply solutions creatively: if you solve the conflict of the story logically, it is good; if you solve it with a twist, it is better and if you make your reader awestruck with suspense or comedy, it is the best. Your reader should not feel that you wanted to end the story as soon as possible and just move on. 

We hope that you keep an eye out for these errors when you write a story next time. Slowly but surely, the eight mistakes will fade away from your stories if you practise the solutions. 

The Magic of Verbs

Have you ever wondered why your sentences remain soulless even after adorning them with alluring adjectives? Adjectives are supposed to be game changers, right? Well, we don’t have anything against adjectives, but adjectives alone won’t improve the quality of your sentences. Don’t worry! Advanced verbs are here to save the day.  

Today, we are going to introduce you to a bunch of vivid verbs which you can use to make your writing stand out. So, before we begin, let’s refresh our memory. What are verbs? A verb is simply a word that expresses a physical action (sing, jump, walk etc.), a mental action (guess, consider, think etc.) or a state of being (to be, to exist, to appear etc.). 

How about we learn about these vibrant verbs through an example? Let’s read the story given below: 

The hooded figure slowly walked towards us. “Duncan, I am scared,” Lydia spoke in a faint voice. Her fingers were shivering as I took her hand in mine to calm her down. “Let’s run,” I told her. We ran down the hill without stopping. “I guess we are safe now,” I let out a sigh.

“Ahhh!” Lydia was crying out loud. A skeletal hand was holding her neck tightly. I looked at the stranger in disbelief; the stranger let out a scary laugh and said, “You can’t escape the wrath of my master. Wherever you go, I will follow.”

Now, let’s substitute the underlined words with some vivid verbs. Are you ready to see the upgraded version of the story? Here it is:

The hooded figure ambled towards us. “Duncan, I am scared,” Lydia croaked. Her fingers were quivering as I took her hand in mine to soothe her. “Let’s run,” I gaspedWe sprinted down the hill without halting. “I presume we are safe now,” a weary sigh escaped me.

“Ahhh!” Lydia was wailing. A skeletal hand was throttling her. I gaped at the stranger; he cackled and said, “You can’t elude the wrath of my master. Wherever you flee, I will accompany.”

Impressive transformation, isn’t it? 

Bonus: here are some commonly used verbs and their better replacements — 

  1. Walk – stroll, saunter, amble, wend one’s way, trudge, plod, hike, trek, strike, troop, patrol, roam etc.
  2. Talk – lecture, orate, address, rant, chat, chatter, gossip, babble, prate etc.
  3. Eat – consume, devour, ingest, bite, gobble, chew, feed, dine, nibble etc.
  4. Cry – weep, sob, wail, bawl, lament, snivel, blubber, howl etc.
  5. Smile – grin, beam, twinkle, grin from ear to ear, smirk etc.
  6. Laugh – guffaw, chuckle, chortle, cackle, howl, roar, shriek etc.
  7. Sleep – nap, doze, rest, drowse, trance, slumber, snooze etc.
  8. Look – glance, gaze, stare, gape, peer, focus, peep, glimpse etc.

 We hope you found this article useful. Stay tuned for more.

Five Different Ways to Practise Writing

 

Getting a child to practise creative writing can be a parent’s worst nightmare. After endless dodging by the child, many to and fro arguments between the parent and the child, often culminating with promises of reward to the child on completing his writing, the child finally sits for the dreary yet necessary exercise. 

The whole experience can be exhausting for the poor parent and uninspiring for the child. On top of that, the idea of practising writing, with the sole aim of scoring high in exam, under a ticking timer and the constant, watchful eye of the parent does not really get the creative juices flowing in the child. Shouldn't creativity be a ‘spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings,’ as Wordsworth once said?

That’s right. Writing should not feel like a task. The trick is to make it fun and educational at the same time. Here, we offer you five different and effective ways of making your child practise writing. Let’s get on with the first tip then.

1. Start a scrapbook

Imitation can be a stepping stone to awakening imagination in one. Scrapbooking a stock of handy quotes is a technique vouched for by budding writers. Encourage the child to copy out favourite quotes and fascinating descriptions from literary works. Writing out interesting text stimulates learning as well as creativity in the mind. Remember to ask the child to go through his collection (as a form of reading exercise) at the end of a week or fortnight.

2. Keep a diary or journal: 

Why not gift your child a beautiful diary and help him start on a new literary journey? Inspire the hidden writer in him to record special moments and events of the day. Diary writing can help the child develop unique and personal style of expression. Give your child space and freedom to write as and when he wishes. Starting first as some sporadic entries, diary writing should over a period become a daily exercise.

3. Scribbles and doodles: 

Sometimes writing from scratch can be daunting. To make writing exercise more exciting, take an already existing text and encourage the child to edit, improve or rewrite it. This text could be anything: a short story (many free stories are available on the web), a few paragraphs of a news article, or a work previously written by the child. If you want to create memorable moments with your child, you could write a short piece (story or description) and offer the child to evaluate and enhance it. A reversal of roles will draw the child’s interest and eagerness to re-write.

4. Letter and note writing: