Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What's up with the adverb?

I didn't see a thing wrong with adverbs until recently when I submitted my work into a couple of writing contests.  I'm happy to say I placed third in one and top twenty in another but much of my negative feedback had to do with adverbs.  Can I tell you how sad this makes me.  I have loved peppering my writing with 'ly' words.  They have been a part of my life since grade school.  I suppose that's where they needed to stay.

So why are adverbs such backstabbers?

Mark Twain once said, "Adverbs are the tool of the lazy writer."

Huh?  Well, let's take a closer look and see why.

The Encarta World English Dictionary states that an adverb is:
  1. modifier of verb or adjective: a word that modifies a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence, e.g. "happily," "very," or "frankly".
So basically you use an adverb to spice up a weak word.  For example: "She tightly closed her eyes."  The verb "closed" isn't strong enough so you pop in "tightly" to better describe it.

What would happen if you used a verb with more zing from the start negating the need for an adverb all together.  How about this instead: "Her eyes slammed shut."  Bam!  Just by changing the verb from "closed" to "slammed" you instantly get a picture of what is going on and it isn't as wordy, which adverbs tend to bring about in writing.

Another problem when using adverbs too often is the risk of telling the story rather than showing it (another big no no we will discuss later).  You want the reader to feel like they are right there in the action with the characters, not on the sidelines watching.

I'm not saying adverbs should be banned from writing.  They are a part of the English language for reason and I personally like them every now and again.

If you're an adverb lover why not try to flex your writing muscle a bit more today.  Right something and go through replacing all the 'ly' adverbs with more dynamic verbs, adjectives, etc.  See where that takes you.

What are your thoughts on adverbs?  Do you love them, love to hate them or a little of both?


Book Lover said...

umm, a little of both. I'm trying not to use them as much but I do. I've never seen it broken down like this before. I needed this. Thanks.

Book Lover said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nutschell said...

Hi Deana!
Thanks for visiting my blog. Adverbs can be helpful--but only when used sparingly.:) Great post!

mooderino said...


I think there's a place for them, but only if thought is put into
the selection.

If you're adding to the meaning you can do it better by choosing a stronger verb (as in the eye closing example you give).

A good place to use an adverb is when you change the normal meaning of the verb: 'She smiled sadly' or 'The saw partially severed his toe.'

Lickety Split

Debbie Maxwell Allen said...

Like you, I used to have an addiction to adverbs. But I'm weaning myself away! Congrats on the contest results--it really gives you a shot in the arm!


Deana said...

@Mandie thanks, hearing Mark Twain's quote actually turned it around for me. THanks though:)

@Nutschell, you are so right sparingly is the key isn't it:)

@Lickety Split, thanks for giving examples of some acceptable adverbs. I am a very visual person so that helped!

@Debbie, thanks about the contests, you are right, it felt great to get a couple of nods:)

Juliana L. Brandt said...

Ugh, I'm terrible with adverbs. Mark Twain is right, I use them only because I'm lazy. I mean, I'm a better writer than that, I swear! Haha. They're just so easy and tempting.

The examples Mood gave were very helpful!

Deana said...

I'm right there with you Juliana, I was reading through my ms the other night laughing at the pure laziness going on.
I agree, I liked that Mood could show some examples of adverbs that work....yay! We aren't completely lost:)

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