Today I have the privilege of welcoming a very important person to me. He's a gifted teacher, preacher, and as you'll soon learn, writer. With many years of experience behind him (I'm not sure if he'd appreciate me saying how many), he today delves into one of the sneakiest adverbs. So, with no further, may I introduce my fantastic dad, Warren Hight. (And because everyone loves giveaways, he's featuring one of those, too!)
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I was marking an assignment the other day, a book review. The student had written that the author “in the first chapter just laid out the basic facts.” The basic facts in this case were foundational to later steps the author went on to develop. I stopped because something jarred within me as I read it.
If the basic facts were essential to what followed, how in any possible reading of them could the author just lay them out? That little word had robbed his sentence of all its power. The author laid out the basic facts, nothing just about it. It was intentional, it was necessary.
I remember years ago I was attending a chapel service and during the notices the speaker stopped short and said, “Bother, I used that word.” What word? I had to think back over what he had said. It was this same little culprit. An adverb, I believe. And I have been told by the owner of this blog site that a writer ought to avoid adverbs—and clichés—like the plague.
Yet I find myself saying it all the time—and then correcting myself; because if it’s worth doing or saying it’s worth not just doing or just saying! “What are you up to?” “Just writing.” Not meaning, exclusively focussed on a writing. Not meaning, go away I’m busy. Meaning, oh, it’s not so important, I don’t think you’d really be interested. Writing Fire suggests passion, determination. Nothing just about that, you know!
Now, I don’t even need to argue that just is a very good word—perhaps even one that any character in any story could justly own. Just and true, noble; or, “Oh, that things were just” (we can come to terms with unfair, eventually); and, of course, when you have just finished something, meaning only now have you completed what you were doing—who can fault that? But when I short change the labour, discounting the noble intent, this is what I abhor, and abhor in myself as often as it slips out. “I just wanted to give you a call,” and we sound somehow apologetic.
I am awed to think that writers and authors will read this; I wonder if your characters let slip the occasional ‘just’ without thinking? I suppose a character saturated in the argot of some levels of conversational culture will accurately reflect this tendency of ours, and be the better drawn character for it! But story characters are often less lazy than we are in real life, and the words of their speech are born of due deliberation.
My admiration goes to Nick for his initiative with this blog, and my thanks to him for entertaining the idea of me posting a “wild-card” blog. I just hope he’ll publish it. And if he does, by way of thanks, I’ll have a copy of Kipling’s Just So Stories sent to a random commenter.