Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A = Adverbs Are Not Necessarily Necessary

He crept softly down the hall. 

The cymbal crashed loudly. 

She kissed him passionately. 

The baby cried noisily.

Let it not be said that I don’t appreciate a well-placed adverb. Seriously. But there are far more instances when a manuscript can benefit from the removal of adverbs, rather than the addition of them. In three of the four examples above, the adverb is redundant. Creeping is soft, by its very nature. Cymbals are loud, and crashes are loud. Babies rarely cry with noise levels considerate of their surroundings. The kiss? If it’s passionate, show it. One person’s “passionately” is another person’s “abusively,” “lovingly,” “abruptly” or even “roughly.”


Make your adverbs count. Use them sparingly (there’s one!) so you don’t start to rely on them to carry your narrative. If you’re busy telling the reader how something happened, you’re depriving them of the opportunity to see it for themselves.

67 comments:

  1. I agree! Great examples. Stopping by from the A to Z to say hello!

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    1. Thanks, Nicole! Happy A to Z to you!

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  2. Great advice. The goal of a writer is not to use many words, but to use the right ones.

    Brandon Ax: Writer's Storm

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    1. Brandon, you are an excellent example of a writer who uses the right words, even when sleep deprived. :) I'm looking forward to your next book.

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  3. What an awesomely greatly advice. I verily muchly like it. :P

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    1. I'm greatly, thankfully, and superbly impressed with your use of the languagely portion of language. Your adverblyness is incredibly astounding. And have I mentioned that your blog posts are very postly? Truly.

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    2. I almostly held back on my languagely knowledge, but admittedly it wouldn't be quite fairly for the rest of the wordly people.

      I think I gave myself a headache. "Ly's" are pretty but not this much... lol

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  4. I agree - adverbs are certainly, definitely often overused (haha). I heard a story on NPR once about how a well-chosen verb can negate the need for an adverb. Instead of, "She walked energetically into the room, " it is better to say, "She flitted into the room." Much more visual, wouldn't you agree? Stopping by from A to Z, and can't wait to come back again!

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    1. I find that I use "actually" a lot in my writing. I don't know why...am I trying to convince people I'm telling the truth? lol I think we all have our special words. I had to write on adverbs because they're my personal weakness.

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    2. HA! I just went to your blog and saw "A" is for "Actually." So it's not just me...

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    3. Ack! And I actually thought I was unique. According to their chart, I still have twenty years before I can move into the lower-usage bracket. By then I'll have forgotten what I was saying anyway.

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  5. Great advice for writers! Thanks for dropping by my blog today. Looking forward to your next post. :)

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    1. I hope they're all beneficial to someone out there! Thanks for stopping by!

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  6. Well said. It seems as if adverbs are no longer in vogue.

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    1. I never realized how often they're overused until I started editing. Now I see them everywhere. Everywhere! But not for long after my Red Pen of Doom comes out.

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  7. *Agrees* I cut most of them out in editing. (Amateur writer on the side). I like the 'show not tell thing' painting pictures around what's happening and then leaving the reader to work it out - they feel more engaged?

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    1. I do like the idea of painting pictures around the action. Some of my favorite authors allow the readers to form the remainder of the picture on their own, without telling every detail.

      I stopped by your blog, by the way, and I'm already looking forward to whatever yummy delight you have in store tomorrow. Thanks for visiting and commenting!

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  8. Excellent point. If you don't need an adverb, don't use it. Sometimes deleting an adverb makes your writing so much stronger and much more interesting.

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    1. The more I read, the more I realize I can form a better mental picture without the adverbs. It does force a writer to use stronger verbs and to take a good, hard look at whether (s)he's taken the easy way or the more creative way.

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  9. I think all of us tend to use adverbs as a crutch at times. During the editing phase of any manuscript, I do a global search for "ly" and see how many adverbs can be replaced by a stronger verb.

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    1. I do the same when editing, and highlight the ones I think could be replaced or just removed entirely without a replacement. Nobody misses them.

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  10. Excellent examples! I fall into adverb abuse, but then try to pull myself out of it. I agree with C.Lee - deleting adverbs can make writing stronger and more interesting. I also love to apply Mark Twain's quote about "very" to every adverb.

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    1. I was thinking of the "very" thing as I wrote the post, in fact!

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  11. Agreed! I often remove adverbs during edits. They're stronger when used less frequently. Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. Now I catch myself doing it more often than not. Even in my comment replies, I'm deleting...and deleting...and deleting...

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  12. Excellent--JK Rowling is an example of a strong writer who used too many adverbs in her earlier books. :)

    Stopping by from the A to Z Challenge.
    www.marie-everydaymiracle.blogspot.com

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    1. It's neat how her books showed such obvious improvement over the series, even to people who didn't know any better.

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    2. Her writing improved tremendously and happily as she wrote the Harry Potter series.

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  13. Great post. Stephen King stands firm on not using them at all. I think adverbs tend to be an excuse to not painting a picture in words. It would sound so much better if the baby cried for hours and hours rather than loudly. Crying for hours and hours is much more painful to the ear.

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    1. Tell me about it (the crying for hours and hours). Very painful, and it would bring vivid memories to the mind of anyone who has ever had a baby in the house!

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  14. I think adverbs belong to the Department of Redundancy department. I mean unless your writing "he kissed his mother passionately" then we can get the idea of Kiss Type through context....How that for am image LOL

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    1. I am now bleaching my eyeballs after reading that. lol The Department of Redundancy Department is my favorite place to visit...for a while.

      I can't wait to hear what you have to say for D and X here...

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  15. Good advice! I've heard it said that the best books use adverbs sparingly. :)

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  16. I'm really, truly feeling happily that you wrote this post. Oh! I have a good one for you: I called a certain medical insurance company to ask why they keep screwing up my payments. The customer service rep said, "I don't know what you're talking about. The money was tooken out during February". I asked, "Tooken out?" I don't remember how many times I repeated "tooken out". I still feel as if I might implode.

    Love,
    Janie

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    1. If you don't implode, I will. I had a neighbor who would always refer to store-bought items as "boughten," as in "boughten bread, not homemade." I'm still not sure what that was all about.

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    2. I remember having friends as a young teenager (yes, I actually had friends) who said, I babysitted last night. I wanted to kill those girls. I was a grammarian by the time I was three, if I remember correctly. Sorry for all these comments. Willy Dunne Wooters doesn't feel well and isn't coming over tonight. Woe is I.

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    3. You may comment as many times as you wish, Your Majesty! I'm happy to be one of your fallback things to do when WDW is absent.

      Shuddering at the "babysitted" thing. I'm surrounded by people who pull things "taunt" and who "unthaw" things from their freezers. I feel your pain.

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  17. So true! I teach writing and have the adverb discussion at least twice a semester!

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    1. Probably for the rest of your life...

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  18. How very true Lydia, It was well put splendidly (g). Thanks for the visit.

    JO ON FOOD, MY TRAVELS AND A SCENT OF CHOCOLATE

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  19. I'll try not to sneeze adverbs all over my pages...

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    1. ...and I now have a vivid but probably inaccurate mental picture of your writing process. But hey, if it works, it works!

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  20. I need to exercise some control, Lynda, because I'm guilty - I do tend to use adverbs. I do manage to delete some. Thanks for reminding me. I'll have to check your blog each day because I do need the advice.

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    1. I won't tell on you. And I won't even make you send me chocolate for each adverb you keep. :)

      I hope the advice is useful! See you tomorrow on your blog, too.

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  21. As someone with an adverb infestation problem, I appreciate the advice :D People spend a lot of time trying to get you to use more adverbs because they are supposed to make writing "more descriptive." Gotta watch the calories, I guess :)
    Cheers!

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    Multicolored Diary - Tales of Colors
    MopDog - The crazy thing about Hungarians

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    1. Adverb infestation, haha...maybe you need to spray for that. I do it myself, so of course I had to get all self-righteous about it and tell everyone else not to.

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  22. Very true about most adverbs being unnecessary. But they do tend to sneak into my writing, and sometimes I have a hard time pressing that delete button. lol

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    1. It's tough to remove them, I'll grant you that! But very liberating, once you get going. The ones who get to stay are extra grateful.

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  23. Wonderful writing tip, although I hope that no passionate kiss of mine is also thought of as abusive. :)

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    1. I always think of a writer friend of mine who said he was pulled right out of a story when reading, by the words, "His lips continued to assault hers." He said he hadn't been aware there was any abuse or attack going on, and it suddenly made the kiss not a good thing anymore.

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  24. Poor adverb! He is always the first part of speech targeted during grammar rules!
    Great tip!
    Writer In Transit

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    1. I know...he's an easy scapegoat, so I figured a post about him wouldn't do any further damage to his ego.

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  25. I agree with Michelle Wallace, haha.... I need to make an orphanage for adverbs, where they can go and be their little adverb-selves. ;)

    But yes, they are over-used on occasion, same as adjectives.

    Alex Hurst, fantasy author in Japan. "B is for Books" is my current post.

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    1. Now I'm picturing a club for rejected adverbs, whose members meet monthly in a seedy bar on the outskirts of town.

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  26. I agree that adverbs were used too much in older books, but I don't see anything wrong with using them today, if they're used properly and not for their own sake. Sometimes a well-chosen adverb can be more descriptive and to the point than 20 extra words. Obviously, one should avoid things like "screamed loudly, or using an adverb where it's just been stated, or is about to be stated, that someone already feels a certain emotion.

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    1. I don't think I could ever get rid of them entirely, but I see many authors using them as an easy way to describe something that could be shown better in just a sentence or two. The well-placed adverb then stands out for its own awesomness. :)

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  27. Hello, my name is Donna and I am an adverb ADDICT. ;) Definitely trying to work on that (oh no, I used another one).

    D.B. McNicol
    A to Z: Romance & Mystery...writing my life

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    1. Hello, Donna! The first step toward getting help is admitting your problem to a roomful (blogful) of strangers. You're on your way to better adverbial health! I think. Really. Seriously. (I tossed some in there so you wouldn't feel so alone.)

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  28. "Thank you!" I bubble enthusiastically.

    What? Oh-h-h-h- that's what you're talking about. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Seriously, I learned something from your examples and will be careful not to use them when they are nothing but redundant! Great post.

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    1. "Thank you!" I reply sincerely.

      Honestly, I never realized how often I use them until I started writing this post. And then it was, "Oh...gotta take that out," and "hmmm...remove that, too." Even my replies here have been mentally edited. I should get bonus points for trying to follow my own advice.

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  29. So this is how you spend your days? Hunting adverbs for money? I understand that adverbs cannot be allowed to ride roughshod over the prairie of prose, but you don't have to be so mercenary about it...

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    1. Well, a stay-at-home mama has to have *something* to fill her days when the kids are occupied. It's the not-Canadian in me, I suppose.

      I'm off to find my stealth bonnet so I can hit the prairie.

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