After talking with a friend of mine about writing styles, I started to notice a trend among a lot of new writers. It’s one I’ve also been a victim of. What is it? Too many adverbs! I decided to read over some of his work and noticed a lot of his prose was all over the place and too rich with adverbs to the point that it was taking away from the story by being unnecessarily wordy. There was also a lot of extended vocabulary usage that I found myself having to run to a thesaurus to figure out what he was trying to say. My advice to him was simple.
When you write narrative, write economically and in the active voice. Maximize your sentence usage by squeezing in descriptions through action rather than “pausing the story” to explain what your characters or a scene looks like. Only use adverbs when appropriate, rather than all the time. Dialogue for example rarely needs an adverb because your character’s actions can be implying what tone he or she has most of the time. When in doubt, read your writing aloud. If you stumble on your own writing, it’s probably not flowing right.
I think the main reason some writers struggle with this is they take Creative Writing courses that focus on poetry writing and not enough time on narrative. The end result is a bunch of flowery text with excessive amounts of imagery the reader has to wade through in order to get to the action. In this situation, you have to make sure you separate what you learned about poetry to what you know about narrative. Either take a different course or just read a lot more and analyze how authors work their style.
There was also a debate about “Beige Prose” and “Purple Prose”. Beige prose is defined as writing that is simple with brief descriptions, plain words, and few figures of speech. Purple prose is the opposite. This is when you write flowery, excessive descriptions that eventually turn into a wall of text. Here is an example of purple prose from the website tvtropes.org:
The disemboweled mercenary crumpled from his saddle and sank to the clouded sward, sprinkling the parched dust with crimson droplets of escaping life fluid.
Argh, my eyes! Too many adverbs!
This is what I mean by what you do if you want to completely kill the flow in your writing. That monstrous sentence took all of the wind out of your lungs to simply describe that someone fell off his horse. Keep it simple, read it aloud, and carry on.
I prefer a style of “show and tell” when I write. It’s a visual style that mixes describing the setting the characters are in (telling) and then fitting in descriptions as the characters interact with their environment (showing). I’ll squeeze in their descriptions as they are interacting with other characters and what not to ensure the story keeps rolling and there is little time spent wading through long descriptions. It’s my way of hitting two birds with one stone and maximizing my sentence usage. Some readers have told me that the way I write makes it easy to imagine, like they are watching a movie in their thoughts. If they say that, it means you have good flow.
With that said, everyone has their own writing style. As said earlier, my best advice is to read what you write aloud and go easy on the adverbs. Find what works for you and refine it. After that, it just takes practice to get better. The more you read and write, the better you will get, hands down.