Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Adverbs & Cliches in a Nutshell, by Jessica Bell

Too many adverbs and clichés in your writing? I've got just the fix for you.

by Jessica Bell

Writers constantly have rules thrown at them left, right, and center. Show, don’t tell! Stop using so many dialogue tags! More sensory detail! More tension! Speed up the pace! Yada yada yada ... it can become overwhelming, yes? I used to feel overwhelmed by it all too. In fact, I still do sometimes. It’s hard enough to get the words on the page, let alone consider how to put them there.

In Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, she says that in order not to be overwhelmed, a writer needs to focus on short assignments. She refers to the one-inch picture frame on her desk and how that little picture frame reminds her to focus on bite-sized pieces of the whole story. Basically, if you focus on one small thing at a time, the story will eventually come together to create a whole. I believe the same applies to learning the craft of writing. If writers focus on one aspect of the craft at a time, the process will seem less daunting and piece by piece it will come together.

My name’s Jessica Bell, and my own struggles with feeling overwhelmed inspired me to write the Writing in a Nutshell Series of pocket-sized writing guides. So you can learn to hone your craft in bite-sized, manageable pieces. In the first book of the series, I focused on demonstrating how to transition “telling” into “showing.” In Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Subversions of Adverbs & Clichés into Gourmet Imagery, I deal with another of the most common criticisms aspiring writers face: to absolutely avoid adverbs and clichés like the plague. But see, right now, I just used one of each. I also used a couple in the first two paragraphs of this post because they come naturally, and we utilize them frequently in everyday speech. But in fiction, too many adverbs and clichés weaken your prose. It’s considered “lazy writing,” because it means we don’t have to show what’s happening.

If your manuscript has too many adverbs and clichés, it most likely means that the emotion you felt while writing it is not going to translate to the reader in the same way. So how exactly can we approach the subversion of adverbs and clichés? For starters, play around with simile and metaphor when you’re trying to convey emotion, and for action, use strong verbs to show it happening in real time.

The key? Think smaller details rather than the bigger picture.

Need some help and inspiration?

In Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell: Demonstrated Subversions of Adverbs & Clichés into Gourmet Imagery</ i>, you will find thirty-four examples of prose which clearly demonstrate how to turn those pesky adverbs and clichés into vivid and unique imagery. Dispersed throughout are blank pages to craft your own unique examples. Extra writing prompts are also provided at the back of the book.
“Jessica Bell's latest pocket guide, Adverbs & Clichés in a Nutshell, will inspire you to leave bland behind and pursue your creative best. With force and clarity, she demonstrates how adverbs and clichés hobble vibrant writing. She then marks a course toward unique expression and provides workouts that will help writers at every level develop a distinctive voice.” ~Laurel Garver, freelance editor, author of Never Gone </ i>and Muddy-Fingered Midnights
Purchase links:



Bio: The Australian- native contemporary fiction author and poet, Jessica Bell, also makes a living as an editor and writer for global ELT publishers (English Language Teaching), such as Pearson Education, HarperCollins, Macmillan Education, Education First and Cengage Learning.

She is the co-publishing editor of Vine Leaves Literary Journal, and the director of the Homeric Writers’ Retreat & Workshop on the Greek island of Ithaca.

For more information about Jessica please visit:



13 comments:

Jessica Bell said...

Thanks for having me, Matt!

Christina Lee said...

Hi Jess, love that you're doing this series of book (enjoyed your first one)!!!! *waves*

Lexa Cain said...

Matthew - congrats for finishing the A-Z Challenge! Woohoo!
Jessica - Congrats on your new book. It's just the thing for aspiring authors! :-)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Jessica, the first book of this series was awesome, and now that the Challenge is over, I can dive into the second one.

SA Larsenッ said...

I'm loving this series! Way to go, Jessica!

Jaime Morrow said...

Gah! Clichés are such a problem. At least I can say that I usually notice when I'm about to use one, and that forces me to try and think of alternative wording. Adverbs, however, are a different story. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to break that habit, despite knowing that "the road to Hell is paved with adverbs".

I'll have to take a look at this book. Thanks for the recommendation! :-)

Sarah Ahiers said...

Woo hoo for Jessica!!

Melanie Schulz said...

I tend to struggle with these, not clichés, but adverbs and an occasional extra adjective.

Suzanne Furness said...

Just downloaded a copy of Jessica's book!

Sheena-kay Graham said...

This book is all over the place. Must be something to it.

Rick Daley said...

Good luck, Jessica!

Nancy Thompson said...

I get so agitated by the use of adverbs. Drives me nuts! Cliches? Not so much. Obviously! ;-P

Liz said...

I guess as a poet, every part of your book is done in a nutshell... I think that does help stop you becoming overwhelmed! This series looks really good.