Jack Vance/Stephen King

connection on writing

(in French here): vance-stephen-king-et-les-adverbes

Jack Vance and Stephen King: two very different authors with very similar ideas about writing:

Vance (1996) : « You might use too many words. This is the sin of most beginning writers, they use too many words. So you can go over your manuscript, and take out all the adjectives and adverbs, and write using nothing but verbs and nouns. Occasionally, you can use adjectives and adverbs—occasionally. But I find you can get your effects by more subtle things, in the rhythm of the sentences, and when the ideas come, make the Ideas carry the weight of the story rather than try to do it by manipulating words. That would be my advice. »
(In interview Aberrations mag. 1996)

King (2000) : « 3. Avoid adverbs. “The adverb is not your friend. Consider the sentence “He closed the door firmly.” It’s by no means a terrible sentence, but ask yourself if ‘firmly’ really has to be there. What about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before ‘He closed the door firmly’? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, then isn’t ‘firmly’ an extra word? Isn’t it redundant? »
(In On writing : – A Memoir of a craft)

Vance (2002): « Just the obvious, just to work. That’s the key. And not try to write too flamboyantly. In other words, don’t try and be ultra-spectacular. Try to do sound work, not inflate their writing with lots of adjectives and adverbs. The main thing is to have a good story, a good plot. Have good characters and don’t try to hit the gong every time. Use a little restraint in your writing. »
(Interview by Kathie Huddleston)

This is a convergence of ideas that seems to be forged out of experience.
If the words of Vance have had little general influence, on the other hand the precepts of Stephen King’s book have had a definite influence on writing schools throughout the world with the consequence that today « future…writers? » are taught to banish all adverbs.
However, while this may be valid advice for a beginning writer, masters of language – like Vance or King – don’t hesitate to use adverbs – or adjectives – if they serve a purpose, as for example in this extract from NIGHTLAMP (chap2):

Idora Wirtz lacked physical appeal; she was small, thin, energetic, with sharp features and a barbaric ruff of brick-red ringlets. She wore garments of gaudy, purposely discordant, colors and always a dozen or more jangling bracelets, often on both arms.
She had achieved the Parnassians, a society of the middle range, but could not escape; despite her most earnest efforts, she had been denied ascent into the clever Safardips, and the even more avant-garde Black Hats.

Have fun counting the number of adverbs and adjectives in these two sentences!

About Stephen King’s « rules » see:


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