Once upon a time, I was a novice writer, and some may argue that I still am, who used adverbs in every sentence, sometimes 2-3 in the same one. Not long ago, I read an article on a writer’s blog about how adverbs should never be used. At first, I thought the individual who wrote it was an idiot. What did he know? Didn’t he realize that adverbs are what put the emotion and intensity into an author’s prose?
As it turned out, I was the idiot. The more I thought about it, the more I tried to rewrite a few paragraphs in my book Solaris Seethes without them. Now, to be fair, I was not able to eradicate all adverbs from my book, but I did get rid of about 80% of them, and it reads better as a consequence. When I went through my short crusade of ridding those few paragraphs of those pesky adverbs, I realized how much I did not need them.
Now, I do not believe as the author of that article does that adverbs should never be used, but I do believe that if you can avoid using one, do it. One way to eliminate adverbs from your writing is to go through and ask yourself, “Can I say that without the adverb?” Then, play with it. It is a time consuming process, but any writer worth his salt should know this.
Why do people use adverbs, you may ask. Simple. They’re lazy and they’re amateurs. There is no other reason for it. I have author friends who might insulted by this statement, since I just called them lazy and amateurs. Okay, so I’m not going to be getting any Christmas cards this year.
But I do believe that adverbs are for the amateur, novice writer who has yet to hone their craft, and for the lazy writer, who is looking to hit it big on the bestseller list and live the writer’s dream. The unfortunate thing is that a lot of your bestselling authors use a multitude of adverbs.
A lot of authors use adverbs to dress up their writing. They think it makes them sound smart, since the majority of adverbs are 3 syllables or more. Many writers believe that adverbs add to your writing and give it that emotional punch. Truth be told, adverbs are distracting and make me grit my teeth when they show up in droves. Don’t get me wrong, there are times when one might be warranted, and as I’ve said, I have not been able to completely (see what I mean?) eradicate them from my own writing, but I’m working on it.
Adverbs are redundant. The English language has tons of words waiting to be used, most of which pack a better punch than any adverb. Consider this example, and it’s something I see a lot of in books:
“Don’t you dare,” he said, loudly.
Wow. I am so not moved by this sentence. Someone shoot me not. Why not write the same sentence, this way:
“Don’t you dare!” he yelled.
Which reads better and packs a better punch? The truth now. If you picked the first one, you’re an idiot. Yes, I said it. You’re an idiot. So sue me. Not that you’ll get much because I only have about $25 to my name.
Or try this example:
Swiftly, I ran to the barn.
Okay, if you, or your character, is running, skipping, jumping, galloping, or anything of that nature, then you (or your character) are moving swiftly. The use of the adverb is redundant. The verb ran implies that the person is moving fast. Just take out the word swiftly and leave the sentence as: I ran to the barn.
Or how about this:
I sliced the cake easily and tenderly as I carefully put a piece on a plate and chewed slowly, savoring the taste.
I have seen a lot of books with sentence like this in them and it makes me want to scream. The sentence is punctuated well, but it stinks and it's all tell, no show, and very boring. Here is a better way to write it.
I sliced the three-layer, red velvet cake with ease, being careful not to damage its fluffy texture, and placed the triangular piece on the porcelain plate and took a bite; my salivating mouth savoried its delicate flavors.
I hope you get the point. The second sentence has more of a picture to it. The cake is red velvet with three layers and its light and fluffy. The plate is made of porcelain and since the narrator says that he is savoring the cake, it is obvious that he is taking his time in eating it. Now, not all of your sentences have to be like this. They can be shorter. But the second sentence does read better and you can picture the narrator eating the cake going, “MMMM, Yummy!”
Example 1: The meat tasted horribly.
Example 2: The meat reminded me of rotted shoe leather steeped in a mixture of fermented lemonade and soured milk.
And consider this passage from Solaris Seethes before and after I yanked out the adverbs.
They breathed laboriously as they walked briskly through the densely laden area of trees and lively monstrous plants. The moist dirt caused them to move sluggishly and sweat made their clothes cling tightly around them.
Sweat streamed down their backs, causing their clothes to cling to their skin as the humidity, which created a vaporous layer above them that refracted the sunlight, sapped their energy. What had started as a brisk trek through a jungle soon became one of exhaustion. Their sluggish feet stepped into the soft, moist earth that acted more like a claw, reaching out for them, clinging to them, and preventing their movements.
The latter is more descriptive.
Is there ever a time when you can use adverbs?
Yes. There are times when the adverb fits, or you are unable to come up with a better way to write that sentence. Despite my efforts, there are still adverbs in my more recent books, but it’s nowhere near the number used in my earlier works and my goal is to not have any at all in my prose.
But adverbs can be used in dialogue, as in when someone is speaking. People use adverbs when talking, so if your characters use it when they’re conversing, so long as you don’t overdo it, that’s okay; it makes for a natural flow of dialogue. My characters use adverbs when they are speaking because, let’s face it, that’s how people talk and we never edit ourselves when we’re talking.
So, I will conclude this by saying that adverbs are best avoided. Do not use them in your prose. Challenge yourself to not use them. It’s hard, but worth it. On the flip side, it is okay to use them in dialogue when your characters are talking, but don’t overdo it.
Believe me, when you stop using adverbs in your writing, you’ll detest them as much as I do.
Janet McNulty is a prolific writer who has publish 4 separate series; her latest being the Solaris Saga. She continues to strive in eliminating adverbs in her own writing. Her work can be found on Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, Google Play, and the iBookstore. If you wish to know when she publishes a new book, go to her Amazon Author Page and click the Follow button.