Have you ever succumbed to the temptation of not trusting verbs to do their job? Like if your hero ‘walked slowly down the road‘ when he could’ve trudged, ambled, plodded, tramped, staggered, crawled … you get the picture?
Maybe you’ve become a bit of a writer-ly ‘adverb-Nazi’? Scouring your manuscripts of those haughty, naughty adverbs? Sniffing them out in a Search and Destroy mission with the touch of a key? Noticing when other writers do ‘it‘?
There’s no doubt being choosy about if and when to use adverbs improves your writing – if you find the right, potent verb for the occasion.
In his book, Writing Tools – 50 Essential Strategies For Every Writer, Roy Peter Clark pins it down..
‘At their best, adverbs spice up a verb or adjective, at their worst, they express a meaning already contained in it …
The accident totally severed the boy’s arm.
The blast completely destroyed the church office….’
Now see how much better the sentence is without the offending adverb. As Clark notes, ‘the deletion shortens the sentence, sharpens the point, and creates elbow room for the verb’.
But the war on ADVERBS doesn’t necessarily mean not using them at all. There are GOOD ADVERBS and BAD ADVERBS as Clark suggests…
‘She smiled sadly’ is more potent than ‘She smiled happily’. And the best one of his examples … remember Roberta Flack singing ‘Killing Me Softly‘? It would never have worked with ‘Killing Me Fiercely’.
i.e. if your adverb contains the same meaning as the verb, it appears weak. If it changes the meaning, it’s strong. In other words, there are adverbs that intensify the verb rather than modify it.’
But this blog isn’t about killing off adverbs – I would suggest be sparing in their use though.
Some in the writing world champion the cause of poor old ADVERB. For example, British author, David Hewson (the Nick Costa series) says:
‘Adverb-hate is one of those automatic ‘never do this’ rules you meet in writing schools and at book conventions from time to time.
I hate ‘never do’ rules in creative fiction. We’re trying to produce works of the imagination here, not business plans.
Furthermore adverb-hate is very localised, an American habit, one some people lay at the door of Hemingway (though whether that’s true or not I’ve no idea).
I’d never heard of this ‘rule’ before I started going to talk at writing schools in the States. And I have to be honest… no reader and certainly no editor anywhere has ever voiced the opinion that adverbs are so, like, nineteenth century, dude.’
Hewson once wrote a blog article ‘I like adverbs: there I’ve said it boldly’, but I can’t find the link now. David Hewson makes other interesting and relevant points in his blog. ‘If you like reading and thinking about the English language and the craft of writing, these two authors and commentators are worth searching out,’ she says, enthusiastically and eagerly.
“Adverbs exist because, used properly, they bring something to writing and have done since we learned to communicate beyond grunts.”
What are your thoughts on the use of adverbs in our fiction writing?