In my last post, I talked about removing ‘ly’ adverbs to strengthen prose. But here’s a challenge – I’ve read a new microfiction by one of my favourite writers, Lydia Davis, where she uses five ‘ly’ adverbs in the space of about 100 words. And yes, the piece works. I like it a lot
A five-day workshop with nine other writers and with the brilliant tutor Sean O’Reilly, organised by Stinging Fly at the Irish Writers’ Centre in Dublin in late June, also shook up my self- imposed rules on editing. I learned not to edit stylistically to begin with, but to ask the question ‘what is this story really about?’ An obvious thing to some writers perhaps, but I’m not sure I’ve ever edited my fictions with this fully in mind. I’ve concentrated on structure, point of view, sentences (yes removing adverbs). It’s harder and sometimes uncomfortable to discover the truth of a story after you’ve written it and to strengthen that aspect first.
It was either Sean or Clare Keegan, who came to talk for one afternoon, or both of them who suggested to write as far out of your comfort zone as possible. When the group and Sean were concentrating on one of my story drafts, I got interested in an underlying theme about choice. I didn’t begin with the idea of writing about the choices people make and their sometimes dire consequences. A couple of the men in the group were angry with the woman in my story, who by her actions, put her husband in a life-threatening situation. I liked them having this reaction – this aspect of the story provoked the strongest emotional response and I could see that deepening it would create a much stronger piece.
After reading the flash fiction I’ve linked to above, by Lydia Davis, I was left thinking about the nature of perception, not about her use of adverbs. The narrator creates a whole life for a person on a wrong perception, a perception that is confounded at the end of the piece. As a reader, I was challenged in the same way. And being challenged in some way is one of the most exciting things about reading fiction.