‘People in the Pool’ – and Some Adverb Questions

A couple of weeks ago, the Loony Teen Writer  posted about revealing necessary exposition in the middle of a scene of movement or action or anything dramatic or humorous, a tactic named ‘The Pope in the Pool’ (the term came from a movie, apparently! I don’t know the reference, so I’ve changed it slightly for the post title). Doing this gives exposition less of an obvious bite, whilst entertaining the reader with something to ‘watch’ (if they’re a visual reader like me) whilst they, effectively, learn.

Harry frequently learns about plot developments around the breakfast/dinner table.
Harry frequently learns about plot developments around the breakfast/dinner table.

It’s not easy. I’ve worked in dinner scenes and physical objects lying about the place, and I still find myself with extraneous scenes.

There are characters who needn’t have scenes to themselves – and yet, something in my head is holding me back from removing the scene entirely.

I don’t question the theory itself, but I question its extent. Some exposition doesn’t work with action or dramatics thrust between it – some action scenes don’t make sense with dollops of conversations. My question comes at how much needs to be done in the balance of action/information – where do we, as writers, draw the line at shipping in arbitrary scenes just to info-dump?

Yes, I am concerned with what and how much should be put in a scene. It’s not simply exposition – it’s removing those odd-shaped pieces of rubble that somehow emerged during the first draft. If dialogue does not advance a plot, but portrays personalities and motives of a set of characters less exposed, does it lack integrity (if we make the call that scenes have integrity) to remain?

Nevertheless, some writers pull it off well. Derek Landy does this  – and on the differing levels of humour and dramatic – from revealing information in the face of enemies to talking over a tailor’s shop and tea.

And that leads me on to some thoughts about adverbs.

Redundant much? (image from Google)
Redundant much? (image from Google)

I was looking through one of the Skulduggery Pleasant books I have (‘The Faceless Ones’, to be specific) and discovered a) Derek Landy rarely uses dialogue tags, especially in the back-and-forths between Skulduggery, Valkyrie and Tanith (ie. the good guys). B) When he uses tags, they sometimes have adverbs with them – luckily, not every time like JK Rowling does (I was also flicking through the Harry Potter books, hence the troll gif 😉 ). Geez.

Now, as a writer, I’m told that adverbs are baad, cuttable every time. They are passable when providing a contradictory state, eg. ‘he smiled icily’. But even that can be said differently: ‘his smile was tinged with ice’; ‘his smile was colder than a block of ice at the North Pole’. As we can see, omitting the adverb and changing the sentence can make a whole lot of difference to the voice.

046462-FC50But so many YA books that I have to hand include a supply of adverbs. In ‘The Faceless Ones’, page 190: “He told him what to do and Fletcher looked at him sceptically, but eventually did as he was instructed;” page 191: “‘Can I ask you something?’ Paddy said quietly;” and two pages later: “‘You can’t see it,’ Fletcher said scornfully.” That’s three/four obvious ones in the space of five pages. Explain that please. But I don’t think (in this instance) it’s bad writing; they don’t call the Skulduggery Pleasant series a Bestseller because it’s only mildly popular!


So. Are adverbs accepted more when used in MG and YA books than in NA and adult?

I’m guessing there’s no definite rule to that, but most writers force their adverbs to flee rather than encouraging them. That’s the way I’m leaving it, despite how many of the books around me suggest there’s more to the question.

9 thoughts on “‘People in the Pool’ – and Some Adverb Questions

  1. I’ve heard that thing about limiting adverbs too. So I try to do it. It does sound better I think by limiting it. Not sure why it shows up more in YA than Adult literature. It’s a mystery, lol.

  2. I think they’re far more acceptable in MG, when readers are still learning to see the scene in their minds and can use the extra cues. I’m willing to forgive it in Harry Potter. In YA or above I can take a few, but I’ve given up on several popular books because of adverb abuse.

    1. Yeah, that makes sense. I suppose I can accept it in Harry Potter (indeed, I must have done as a reader when I was younger), but I’d classed the series as YA more than MG, especially when it gets much darker at about book 4. As a writer, though, Rowling’s style irritates me; I kind of expect a book so popular to be more – idunno – streamlined. So many of her uses of adjectives just disrupt the scene, in my opinion.
      Maybe that is just the writers in us that tell us the style isn’t right. *shrugs*

  3. Hmm, I think it depends on how the adverb flows with the sentence.
    If it sounds good it doesn’t matter what genre uses it. As for info-dumps, they really can be unnecessary at times. I think info-dumps work the best when you also add some sort of plot development into the scene too.
    Say you’re writing a fantasy book and want to talk about elves. So you include a scene where the two humans talk about elf physiology and history. To justify this, have them examine an elven artefact, or have to detour into elven lands. Info-dump scenes that could be removed from the story without affecting it in the slightest can really be obnoxious.

    1. Good point. There are someoccasions in my current editing process where I come across an adjective and my instinct is to keep it. Things like ‘slowly’ when a movement verb cannot really emphasise the slowness.
      Those info-dumps are things we’ve got to be careful about as writers 🙂

  4. At a conference one author said people use adverbs because they’re lazy writers. He said you should write a scene so that the reader will have no question that it was spoken quietly, or happened suddenly, etc. I think, however, that adverbs are fine as placeholders in early drafts.

    As for infodumping—you should never do it. Never. Rewrite the scene, figure out a creative way to drop that information in naturally. It will come, it just may be a struggle for a little while. (Not to say that I do it perfectly, but I have had occasion where I struggled with introducing information and it came off better than its infodumping introduction before).

    1. Fair enough. As I think I said in the post, I don’t like adverbs; you’re right, they make the piece sound laboured (especially many in one go, as in Harry Potter). Although I dislike using my visuo-spatial sketchpad (inner eye) to write (’cause that used to make me headhop), I’m trying now, as I edit, to think “how would these things be shown if on TV?”. Because, in acting, you don’t normally have voiceover saying, for instance, it was windy – one sees the open door bang against the piano. Sorry – I know I’m preaching to the choir (what an odd idiom!), but my point is: that’s my new technique, and it has helped me avoid adverbs except in extreme/rare cases.

      At least I’ll know not to write adverbs because that makes me lazy 🙂

      Oh, I’m not condoning info-dumping, but the previous post I read got me thinking about ways around it. I think this is one thing I definitely need a reader’s eye for, because I can’t myself tell.

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