Monday, June 10, 2013

Jessica Bell's Adverbs and Cliches in a Nutshell

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, 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 and Muddy-Fingered Midnights
Purchase links:
Amazon US | Amazon UK | Amazon Ca | Kobo

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:
Website | Blog | Twitter | Facebook


  1. Yay for such a helpful book and a helpful post too!! I like the thought of little bite-size pics and small is beautiful details! Thank you Jessica, hello Marcy! Take care

  2. I would be lost identifying my wrong prose or adverbs, luckily it's not a problem for me....yet!

  3. Her series is just awesome for writers. Simple, to-the-point, and with examples.

  4. I love Jessica's idea of writing a small book focusing on one aspect of writing. And adverbs and cliches are definitely problem areas. Congrats to Jessica!

  5. Thank you so much for having me! :)

  6. Love this book! I feel like I've waited forever to finally highlight it on my site. Next week, next week.... :)

  7. oooh, I've seen this one from Jessica quite a lot around the blogosphere

  8. This sounds like a handy guide to have around. I'll check it out. Thanks.

  9. Trying to get rid of those adverbs is one of my big things I do in a second draft. I cringe sometimes when I write that first draft and I type in a few adverbs because I hurrying and not taking the time to find the write word.

  10. I wish Jessica's book was software that you could load as an attachment to a word processor.

  11. That first paragraph really stressed me out. :P

    But definitely a handy book to have around.

  12. Congrats to Jessica! I like Michael's idea of software.

    Happy Monday!

  13. Oh, cool! I loved her other "Nutshell" books.

  14. I've heard such great things about this book. And I love the tip to think in smaller details. Specificity is one of the keys to great writing. I know that when I read, but it's always harder to implement when I write! :)

  15. Such a great idea for book. Congrats to Jess!

  16. "...absolutely avoid adverbs and clichés like the plague." Love that example! Your book is on my Amazon list. Great post.

  17. This sounds like a good resource for anyone!


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