Have You Ever Seriously Thought About Adverbs?

theroadtohellispavedwithadverbsI’ve been thinking and reading about adverbs recently, really thinking about them and studiously reading about them too. Some writers have famously come out and attacked the lowly adverb, stating that there is no place in fiction for an adverb, and others don’t seem to mind them at all. So, I decided to think about it.

Stephen King once said, in his book On Writing, ‘the road to hell is paved with adverbs.’ I don’t know if it’s as bad as all that, but I can definitely see his point. First of all, let’s look at what an adverb is.

In simple terms, an adverb is a describing word that adjusts a verb. For example, he ran to the shops, or, he quickly ran to the shops. In this example, ‘quickly’ is the adverb.

The problem with adverbs is that they can spread across your work like a disease. They’re just so easy to drop in to sentences and they make your writing muscle weak. In the previous example, you could drop ‘quickly’ into a few places;

  1. he quickly ran to the shops
  2. quickly, he ran to the shops
  3. he ran quickly to the shops
  4. he ran to the shops, quickly

See what I mean? It’s far too easy to drop one in. The other problem with adverbs is that they allow you to be lazy with the way in which you articulate. Surely, in the above example it would be better to say; he sprinted to the shops, or he legged it to the shops, or he raced, scampered, dashed, or hurried.

See, there’s no reason to have ‘quickly’ in there at all. It’s ‘ran’ which should be taken out, not another word added to it. Often an adverb is just there to improve a poor verb choice.

I’m editing my new book at the moment and this is the time to go through it and check for any of the little urchins. Most adverbs end in ‘ly’ so I search through the document for ‘ly’. Then I look at the verb they’re adjusting and see if I can’t have a better choice of verb instead.

The less words there are, the more succinct it will be, the less you will hopefully bore the reader, and the more flow you will gain. Your text will be lean and mean, so give it a try.

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11 responses to “Have You Ever Seriously Thought About Adverbs?

  1. Adverbs are also “telling” words, and writers are always encouraged to show, not tell. To use your example, “quickly” is a word that means something different to everyone. So showing what quickly means, according to the main character’s POV, is much more vivid and interesting to the reader.

  2. Search slowly and avidly through that manuscript my friend 😉

  3. Excellent points, and also very amusing in that Mr. King soon uses an adverb as an example of how and when it does show, more than tell. And who can forget, “Slowly I turn, step by step…”? 😉

  4. ironically my daughter came home this weekend with the following scrawled over her homework – ‘Lovely story. For your next one, try using more adverbs.’

  5. I believe that Stephen King’s rules have helped me IMMENSELY, lol. Seriously, it makes better reading to cut adverbs; but also stated is that there is a time and a place when an adverb fits in; such as my first sentence.

  6. Pingback: Have You Ever Seriously Thought About Adverbs? | Cubbys Corner

  7. Pingback: The Adventures of Eddie Tin | Michael J Holley - Writer

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