Avoiding Adverbs

I’ve been to several writing conferences and read many books and articles on writing. One piece of advice that frequently appears is to, at all costs, avoid adverbs. In fact, I’ve heard it so many times, I should write it like this: AVOID ADVERBS ALWAYS!!!!

Why? You might be asking.

In a nutshell, adverbs are an important tool for a lazy writer. But who wants to be a lazy writer? Not me.

An adverb is a word that describes a verb. They often end in -ly. A few examples are: quickly, quietly, and one that I use all too often, clearly.

Stephen King has this to say about them: “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day … fifty the day after that … and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s–GASP!!–too late” (On Writing).

So, what’s the problem? Let me give you an example.

  • The girl walked quietly down the hall.

The adverb in this sentence is “quietly,” but it’s weak. What does “quietly” look like? It doesn’t show the girl walking down the hall. In order to remove the adverb, I need to rely on a stronger verb and descriptive details.

For example, to just change the verb, I could revise it to:

  • The girl crept down the hall.

This sentence is shorter and slightly more vivid. If I want to show even more detail, I can describe the hall and an action that conveys her wanting to move “quietly.”

  • The girl crept down the hall, tiptoeing over the creaky board that lay three steps past the top of the staircase.

In most cases, weak adverbs can be replaced with much stronger verbs.

Last week, as I was revising my WIP, I decided to see how many adverbs I had used. I write in MS Word, so I searched for “ly.” Oh. My. Gosh. Apparently I adore adverbs. I had no less than 1500 words that ended in -ly.

Some of them weren’t adverbs but adjectives like “only” or nouns like “belly” or “family.” But many were adverbs. So far, I’ve managed to cut over 400 of them by replacing them with more active verbs or removing them altogether. They really aren’t necessary . . . or . . . maybe they just aren’t necessary.

Do you see the difference?

Go through your current project and do an “ly” search. See what you find. Do you rely on adverbs? Share your best revision in the comments below.

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