Adverbs

There’s a lot of “expert advice” going around, telling writers that they shouldn’t be using adverbs.  In excess, sure, I get that. They can be redundant when it’s already implied just how the action described is being performed.  But to not use them at all?  Sometimes they’re necessary!  Sometimes it’s not clear what tone of voice a person is using from the context, or what level of force he or she is using to say, open a door.

Unnecessary:  “She flung the door open angrily.”  Okay, you don’t need to say “angrily” because “flinging” already implies it, especially if she’s already angry.

Necessary:  “Slowly, hesitantly, she opened the door.”  If you merely say, “She opened the door,”  how does the reader know how she opened the door?  I suppose if she had “eased it open,” then you wouldn’t need an adverb.  Still, adverbs have a place in writing. They shouldn’t be used to excess, but they exist for a reason. Handshakes, for instance;  you can describe a handshake as being performed “vigorously” or “limply,” or something in between.  If you just say, “They shook hands,” that tells the reader nothing about the nature of said handshake.  And that might be an important detail.  It might establish a certain confidence, or lack thereof, on the part of a certain character.

I call bullshit on this whole adverb moratorium thing, because every time I pick up a book by a bestselling author, its pages are chock full of adverbs.  Even the people who tell you not to use them!  What are they trying to do, eliminate competition by giving you shitty advice?

Bottom line is this:  Manipulate your words into something that flows, something that keeps the story moving.  If adverbs are present, and they facilitate this process, leave them in!  If not, if they seem redundant, take them out!  Use your own judgment.

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4 responses to “Adverbs

  • Andrew Ashling

    Very sensible advise.

    Though it is true that adverbs sometimes are the lazy solution for not having to grope for the right verb, and in many instances just how something is said is indicated by the content of the sentence itself. Still there are instances adverbs are useful as modifiers.

    I think trying to avoid them at all costs can be as artificial as using them too often. Your thoughts?

  • RDoug

    As with all rules, the secret is in knowing when, why, and how to break them. And, in writing rules, there are no absolutes—you end sentences in prepositions because that’s the way people talk; you don’t use complete sentences for the same reason; sometimes (albeit rarely) an exclamation point is justified; people talk in starts and stutters when they’re excited, distracted, etc., and so to should the characters in your book . . . within limits.

    In fact, there’s not a single “rule” I can think of that’s so hard-and-fast that it shouldn’t be broken on occasion. Anyone who doesn’t break rules must be writing some pretty boring and stiff-sounding stuff.

  • Patrick Walts

    Good points, both of you. Andrew, that’s a very interesting question you’ve posed. At what point does the avoidance of a cliché become a cliché unto itself?

  • Patrick Walts

    Only a Sith deals in absolutes!

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