Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ruling please?

How about a ruling on this sentence?  My problem is the "visibly".

The tears were running visibly down his face.

Tears can BE visible, but can they RUN visibly? That is, is this an adjective (modifying tears) which is being forced into adverb (modifying run) position? 

I know it's not a felicitous sentence overall, but let's just focus on "running visibly." We know what it means-- the guy isn't trying to hide his tears. But if the narrator sees the tears, why do we need "visibly"?  Also, really, running visibly?  I don't even know why that makes my skin crawl.

What do you all think? If you were editing, would you let that sentence go by?



Leah said...

I'd drop the "visibly." What's the implication, that he could somehow make the tears invisible if he didn't want anyone to see them? Gimme some of that magic. No, he'd hold them back, or wipe them away, or something.

If the writer is trying to get across the sense that this guy is crying without shame, then maybe "openly" or "freely" would be better. But I still don't think the adverb is adding anything (plus it's cliché). A man is crying. If we know him to be a man who doesn't usually cry in front of others, we already know the significance of this act.

Melissa Alexander said...

Obviously this is out of context, but my gut says visibly doesn't need to be there. Can tears run invisibly?

I can't think of any time off the top of my head where "visibly" wouldn't be redundant, if the paragraph is describing something being viewed anyway.

Gayle Carline said...

Yeah, no, I'd hunt that sucker down and kill it. First of all, if the tears are running down his face, they're pretty freaking visible, yes? Perhaps he means "openly", as in, unstopped, unashamed, for all the world to see. In which case, he should say so.

kate said...

No, I wouldn't. The word visibly is jarring to the eye and ear there, so even if it did make sense, I'd remove it or change it.

Anonymous said...

Why were they running?

"Tears ran down his face."

There are many other ways to convey whatever needs to be conveyed in the paragraph in question.

Edit ruthlessly!

Deb Salisbury, Magic Seeker and Mantua-Maker said...

I agree. "Visibly" is jarring, and not in a good way.

I vote for "Tears ran down his face."

Misty Nelson said...

I agree with everyone else, the "visibly" doesn't need to be there. Reading it immediately brings to mind, "what, as opposed to invisibly?"

Also, the word "were" puts the sentence into a passive context. "The tears ran down his face" make it active.

You could always describe the experience more if you wanted - "his vision blurred as tears filled his eyes, finally overflowing and flooding unchecked down his face". That's probably a bit on the purple prose side right there but it pulls the reader into the experience more (or at least it pulls me in when I read things like it) rather than having them as observer.

:) :)

Susan Helene Gottfried said...

I'd change it, too. The tears ran down his face, leaving visible tracks. -- well, if it was my own. If it wasn't, I'd suggest something like that and let the author decide.

Anonymous said...

Also, the 'the', which I edited away without thinking about it - it's pointless out of context. Unless they're specific tears, that's one word we definitely don't need.

/Same anon as before

Clare K. R. Miller said...

I'm going to go against the grain now and say "visibly" works for me. I might put it before the "running," but to me it says that the tears are flowing so quickly/strongly that the actual movement is noticeable, not just that the tears themselves are visible. Context might change my interpretation, but if that's what the writer meant, then I'm good with it.

Adrian said...

It's impossible to say without more context.

Visible tears running and tears running visibly mean two slightly different things. Without more context, it's impossible to know what is lost by transforming the adverb into an adjective or by removing it altogether or by some other edit.

Darkspires said...

The sentence needs to be reworked. Since I assume no one in the story is blind, then the tears will be visible. Saying they are is telling, not showing. It also sounds like a passive sentence as the tears were happening to the guy and not being done by him. Aside from anything else, this should be a huge angst moment and it is now wrecked with this sentence. I don't see any emotion. He could be peeling an onion.

Kate Higgins said...

I'd edit out visibly. It's a case of trying too hard to create a scenario or mood with marginal words. Can he also snore audibly? I'd rewrite the whole sentence.

Christine Tyler said...

Tears ran down his face.

Peter Cooper said...

"Visibly" is unnecessary. If the tears are running they're visible.

Anonymous said...

Lose the 'visibly'! If really needed to show he's not trying to hide or repress them, try 'unhindered'.

Even if there is something odd about the lighting or something so that the tears might have somehow not been visible -- still it should be communicated some other way. The 'visibly' sounds like a nonsense cliche.

'The tears' suggests that the tears had already been introduced: they are 'the tears' we've already seen ('misting his eyes' or 'welling from his eyes' or something like that). If this is the first mention of tears, then lose 'the'.

I like 'were running'. That means it's a 'progressive' situation, an action 'in progress'. It's going to continue for a while. 'Tears ran down' suggests that a few tears ran down but they were over by the end of the sentence.

(houseboatonstyx from LJ here)

Ashlyn Macnamara said...

If the POV character can report the tears, they're visible. I would cut the adverb. I hope I'd never have written it in the first place.

Victoria Prescott said...

I think I'd shift the focus away from the tears, to the characters. 'Mary was shocked to see tears running down his face'; 'he didn't try to hide the tears running down his face.'

(First time commenting here; hi!)

Anonymous said...

I don't think I could leave the sentence. If the author really feels the need to make a point about the guy not hiding his tears or the volume of them, perhaps visible/visibly could be used to modify something else such as: The tears made visible tracks down his cheeks.

Not that I like that much better but at least it makes sense even if you pick it apart.

Edittorrent said...

I'm with you on that-- tears can't run invisibly, so why mention that they're running visibly?

Historian, yeah, I see that-- that it's the character, not the tears, that should be highlighted. Does he try to hide the tears, or weep openly, or... That would make this more interesting.

Sometimes a line just sounds wrong, and justifying the intuition takes awhile.

Joanne Sheppard said...

There are no circumstances in which tears could be invisible, so there's no need to stress that they're visible. Of course they're visible; why on earth wouldn't they be? Moreover, they couldn't *run* invisibly, either. So 'visibly' is superfluous and just makes the sentence clumsy. It's the sort of thing that tends to make me want to throw a book across the room.

David said...

"The tears were running visibly down his face."

Aside from writing (who doesn't?), I also teach freshman composition. As far back as Strunk & White and as recently as Elements of Style (yes, I know I'm referring to the same work), "kill the adverb" has been the motto of choice. (I think Rowling paraphrased that in Book IV.)

There's a stylistic reason to choose "were running" over "ran" - tied to the grammatical difference between the two.

But as others have noted we need context to judge properly. There might be a plot element requiring the visibility of the tears to be noted. For instance, in a SF story where the alien character's tears don't usually appear, even when crying, the visibility might be significant.

Assuming, however, that we are talking about a regular interaction, the whole sentence cries (!) for revision. Map character/action onto subject/verb and we get: "he cried." As a general rule, the grammatical subject should be the actor (character).

Anonymous said...


In my opinion, tears run silently = silent crying. If you just write 'he cried', you're going to need quite a few extra words to describe how. You're better of with the running tears.

And since there's a 'visibly' in the original sentence, I'm pretty sure the dude who's leaking doesn't do that very often. Hence, probably silent, but visible tears.

Thomas Sharkey said...

This showing that he cried and it is over the top.

'Tears ran down his face', is quite enough.