Writing Tip Wednesday: The Thing About Adverbs.

The thing about adverbs is that you should use them sparingly, though many writers will probably tell you not to use them at all. Stephen King is famously quoted as saying, ‘The road to hell is paved with adverbs.’

Adverbs, for those scratching your head, are the words that end in -ly. You can see the Oxford Dictionary definition here.

Why is using adverbs such a big no-no? Because they tell the reader what is happening rather than show the reader. It pulls the reader out of your story and that is something you don’t want to do. A sign of bad writing is the overuse of adverbs. Something I had no clue about when I was writing at fifteen, but thankfully I do now 🙂

A lot of the time adverbs will be tucked on the end of a dialogue. e.g ‘I hate peas,’ she said angrily.

Here’s some advice from Janice Hardy on how to fix adverbs in dialogue:

‘Adverbs are most often misused in dialog. They’re dropped in to show emotion or description without actually conveying what that emotion or description is:
“I hate you,” she said angrily.
In this instance, angrily doesn’t tell you how the character actually speaks. Does she shout? Snarl? Spit? The adverb is vague so it doesn’t add anything to the sentence readers can’t already assume by the dialog. It’s a pretty good guess saying “I hate you” means she’s angry.

There are also much stronger ways a writer can dramatize that anger to make the scene more interesting. This character might bang her fist on a table, mutter snide comments under her breath, spit in someone’s face, pull out a Sig Sauer nine mil and blow some guy’s brains out. All of those would be more exciting than angrily, which can mean something different to everyone who reads it.

By using an ambiguous adverb, not only are we falling into lazy writing, we’re missing a great opportunity for characterization. The gal who would mutter snide comments is not the same gal who’d break out that Sig.’

But sometimes an adverb is the right word, so don’t think you have to drop every single one. Just don’t use them ALL THE TIME. When you are editing your manuscript you can type ‘-ly’ into search and then go through and weigh up whether each one is necessary or not, changing the adverb as needed.

Here are some great posts I found on using adverbs, they are worth the read and will help you to make your writing better:

Writing Basics: How To Use Adverbs.

Overcoming Adversity Through Adverbs.

Who Said What: Dialogue Tags And Properly Punctuating them.



13 thoughts on “Writing Tip Wednesday: The Thing About Adverbs.

  1. Agreed. I think using them sparingly is fine. Adverbs would not exist if you weren’t supposed to use them. With that being said, I see why some authors avoid them. A little goes a long way.

    1. Sometimes an adverb really is the right word, and if I’m reading I won’t notice if there are a handful or so spread throughout a book, but when they are on the end of every single dialogue tag it makes me want to throw the book.

  2. Some great advice here! Over my years of writing, I’ve really worked toward eliminating adverbs from my prose, only keeping a few where I deem them necessary. After all, with the right action, verb choice, and dialogue, the reader will be able to follow what you are trying to convey.

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