Ugh! Adverbs. Why they are terrible, and why you should revise them out.

writing

#1

You know adverbs right? The little descriptors that end in ly like badly, imperceptibly, merrily, angrily. Everybody uses them in their writing, but not so much in their day to day speech. Why is that? Well because adverbs are narrative shortcuts, and we tend to be much more adept at describing great detail via spoken word rather than written language. It’s just the natural way humans speak. Does that mean adverbs are okay to use when in the throes of composition. No. Absolutely not, and here’s why. As I said above, adverbs are narrative shortcuts. Ways to describe something without going into detail. When I read a manuscript that’s chock full of the little buggers it conveys one of two things to me. Either the writer is lazy, or isn’t confidant that the reader will understand what they are trying to say. Take this example using adverbs.

" Jim broke his arm, and it hurt badly. "

My lord is that bad huh? Now take a look at this version.

" Jim slammed into the ground harder than he had on the previous attempt. His skateboard somersaulted over his head, and came crashing down, right into the bridge of his nose. the pain was immense, and he could already feel hot liquid in his throat, and the sickening taste of copper. It hurt, that was certain, but the pain was swiftly replaced by something even more excruciating. His leg, which had seemed fine the moment he landed, was now vibrant with pain, so much so that his eyes began to oscillate between brilliant white stars, and a creeping grayness on the outskirts of his vision. There was no doubt in his mind that his leg was broken, but a quick look at his shin, and the large horrendous lump bulging out if the side would have quelled any he might have had. "

See how much better, and entertaining that is? It’s not going to win you a Hugo, or Pulitzer, but it’s much more pleasing to the eye, and with only one adverb.

Remember to find the right balance of detail in your narration. Too little, and the reader feels lost, too much, and you’re doing all the work for them.

It’s only your job to tell the reader that there is a red vase with gold trim sitting on an antique side table. It is the readers job ( and entertainment ) to decide whether it’s a flower vase or decorative one. Whether it’s Garnet, or Crimson. The reader determines whether it’s a filigree trim, or a simple solid one, and if the table is Oak, or mahogany.

The exception of course is if these details are integral to the plot. Perhaps the vase needs to be Garnet because it reminds one of the characters of a particular shade of lipstick his deceased wife used to wear.

All in all, don’t worry about adding too much detail. Remember to write with the door closed for your first draft. Write for you, and no one else. Once you’re finished, then you can open your study door, and begin your revisions.

Good luck to you all in whatever creative venture you choose. Just remember, Passion, and persistence are the only two tools you need to succeed creatively.

I’ll leave you with my favorite passage from The Elements Of Style by William Strunk, and E.B. White. It’s changed the way I write permanently ( See what I did there. )

" Vigorous writing is concise. A sentence should contain no unnecessary words, a paragraph no unnecessary sentences, for the same reason that a drawing should have no unnecessary lines and a machine no unnecessary parts. This requires not that the writer make all his sentences short, or that he avoid all detail and treat his subjects only in outline, but that every word tell. "


#2

Fixed the format. It should be readable now.


#3

I’m going to pitch this is: https://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/there-are-no-rules/dont-dismiss-adverbs

Remember stylistic choice, and writing style. Adverbs aren’t all bad, and sometimes they can be helpful. I think what we need to look out for is not to take all adverbs out, but don’t over saturate a piece of writing with them.


#4

I subscribe the Stephen King mindset. Adverbs are best suited for cheap romance novels, and YA books lol.


#5

I love how the anti-adverb crowd lashes out against something that once been widely used over the past 40 years and then claim that everything is wrong because of it.

And then tell people: “Adjectives are how real people communicate and talk these days.”

Give it up guys. You’re not going to wipe out the use of adverbs overnight or in a generation. People will still use them regardless to great effectiveness.

Still trying to figure out which one of my characters in my books has a plummy voice.


#6

I don’t completely agree with you. I’m not big on adverbs (I prefer stronger, specific verbs*), but having a few isn’t going to kill your story. I’ve also found they can sometimes create a better flow than sticking to just a verb.

It’s also worth noting there are more adverbs in the second example than the first (“harder” and “swiftly” and maybe a couple I didn’t catch.) Honestly, if you plugged the first sentence into an actual paragraph, it might not seem so egregious. As is, it doesn’t seem like a fair comparison when you’re looking at a sentence vs. a paragraph.

A fairer comparison might be something like this:

… the pain was swiftly replaced by something even more excruciating.

vs.

… the pain was overwhelmed by something even more excruciating.

In this situation, “swiftly replaced” and “overwhelmed” mean more or less the same thing.

The difference is usually in the strength of the verbs you choose. Strong verbs can stand without modifiers where weak verbs might need them.

I’ve found a good rule of thumb is one adverb per 100 words. If I go over a bit, though, I don’t worry about it. I generally use fewer adverbs (well, in my stories. I used a ton of them here), but there are reasons to use them.

*same thing for adjectives. Strong, specific nouns and verbs >>> tons of adjectives and adverbs


#7

That is a fair assessment. I will not deny that there are times when adverbs are appropriate. This post was geared towards a lot of amateur writers I see on here with good ideas, but bad execution. But, by all means, everyone should write passionately, and for themselves first, and foremost.


#8

Fair enough!