Adverbs. I used to love adverbs. I have to admit that I would still love adverbs (especially those ending in -ly) were it not for Stephen King’s book On Writing. He pointed out the folly and excess of using adverbs, and I have since tried to drop them from my writing whenever possible. Hey, I’ll admit it. I’m something of a follower, but since in this case, I’m following a master…I think it’s forgivable.
Adverbs have not always been passe to me. In seventh grade, they gave me a valuable lesson in grammar. They also gave me a valuable lesson in how to capture an audience.
Mrs. Sliwinski was my seventh grade English teacher. Seventh grade English could have been a destructive class. All spelling and grammar and very little literature. (Insert snore here.) Somehow, she managed to make it fun. Or maybe I’m just that big a nerd. Either/Or…
Anyway, she did try to make grammar interesting and hands-on. My favorite lesson was, obviously, one on adverbs. We had learned what they were and how to use them, so it was time to put her instruction to use. We were given the assignment to write a story about an animal and we had to use adverbs.
Well, the people around me were writing about their fluffy kittens and their playful pups. Saccharine, sweet, and pedantic. I wanted to do something different. I thought about writing a story about cows since I lived on a farm, but when you live in dairy country, everyone has a farm or access to one.
So, I stole an idea. I decided to write a story about a shark. A shark attack, to be precise. (Yeah, yeah…I can hear the score to Jaws playing in my head, too.) I started the story with the heroine, Kristy, swimming (slowly, lazily, languorously? I don’t remember…). As she swam, a shark attacked her. If I think about it, I probably pretty much stole the opening shark attack from the movie. Because I couldn’t bear to have an unhappy ending, though, I saved Kristy. At the last possible moment, a boat arrived, someone grabbed her flailing arm, and she was pulled aboard the ship.
The story was probably mediocre by my current standards. Pretty decent by seventh grade standards, perhaps.
What I remember about that story is the audience response. Mrs. Sliwinkski read the story aloud, and as she read about Kristy’s miraculous rescue, there was a collective burst of air from the lungs of my peers.
Everyone had been holding their breaths, afraid to breathe lest they miss a single word (probably an adverb).
I still smile when I think of that moment. Of how I made people hold their breathes with my words. Of how they wanted to know what happened next, how it would all turn out.
That’s a pretty cool feeling. And I’d like to feel it again and again.