The adverb fights back
Special event at Blackwell’s: a workshop by that excellent writer and teacher Richard Skinner, Head of Fiction at the Faber Academy. We began with a mini story-telling task relating the events of our Sunday. (Mine was singularly event-free.) He had us cut our words and twist our paragraphs around and for most of us that improved the product.
We did ‘point of view’. Very useful for me, because in my second novel I am trying to tell the story from two points of view. The exercise was uncomfortable, though: a description of oneself from one’s own p.o.v., then from the p.o.v. of a parent, and – easiest of all, I thought – from the p.o.v. of an enemy.
This was the second time I’d been to a Richard Skinner workshop, and the second time I’ve heard him say that at Faber they reject any submission that has an adverb on the first page.
Here is a piece of not very scientific research based on the first pages of novels I have on my Kindle.
0 adverbs on first page: Affinity by Sarah Waters, Stoner by John Williams, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, To Rise Again at a Decent Hour by Joshua Ferris, The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James.
1 adverb on first page: Brooklyn by Coln Toibin, Tikkipala by Sara Banerji, The Children Act by Ian McEwan, The Temporary by Rachel Cusk
2 adverbs on first page: Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd, The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore, Ulysses by James Joyce, The Ghost Road by Pat Barker.
3 adverbs on first page: The Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood.
My own first novel,’Timed Out’, has none and my second ‘Makeover’ has one.
‘Which all goes to show,’ as my father was fond of saying, ‘I don’t know what, but it goes to show.’ I suppose one thing is clear: if you’re fond of adverbs don’t submit to Faber (unless you are already famous, of course).