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Writing 101: Death to Adverbs

Go to a public location and make a detailed report of what you see. The twist of the day? Write the post without adverbs.

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Go to a local café, park, or public place and report on what you see. Get detailed: leave no nuance behind.

Thoughtful writers create meaning by choosing precise words to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. As you strive to create strong imagery, show your readers what’s going on; avoid telling them.

Today’s twist: write an adverb-free post. If you’d rather not write a new post, revisit and edit a previous one: excise your adverbs and replace them with strong, precise verbs.

The sin of telling often begins with adverbs*. Author Stephen King says that, for writers, the road to hell is paved with adverbs:

The adverb is not your friend.

Adverbs…are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind….With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.

Instead of using adverbs as a crutch, rely on strong verbs to convey emotional qualities that imbue your writing with nuance, allowing the reader to fire up their imagination. Consider, for example:

“She walked proudly out the door.”

Remove the adverb “proudly” and replace it with a strong verb to denote how she walked:

She strutted out the door.

She sashayed out the door.

She flounced out the door.

Each example connotes the emotion with which “she” moved, creating a more vivid picture than “proudly” ever could.

*Note we’re not advocating the eradication of all adverbs all the time. The goal of this exercise is to place a constraint on adverb use to help you to focus on using strong, precise verbs in your writing.

Need a helping hand? Head to The Commons.

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    1. “to carefully observe” is a split infinitive. 🙂

      I don’t agree that adverbs are a “crutch”. I will accept that they are overused and often show a lack of thought and/or writing skill. In that way, they are no more a crutch than anything else.

      Liked by 6 people

    2. I went to the market and here’s my report… You can be sure I spared no adverb! I killed them αℓℓ!
      http://
      hardethaewoh.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/the-
      marketplace/
      Would appreciate anyone’s comment, suggestion and critism!

      Like

    1. I love the passion that a discussion on adverbs generates!

      I think it’s important to note that we’re not advocating that participants ban adverbs from every sentence they write, merely to consider the effect that over-reliance on adverbs can have on a piece of writing.

      The point of this exercise is to discover how many adverbs you’d typically use and to reflect on whether strong, vivid verbs might be more effective, and to have a little bit of fun doing it.

      Often, the most amazing writers, artists, and musicians create incredible work when placed under a “constraint” of some kind. Part of Writing 101 is to encourage experimentation with constraints, in a fun, supportive environment.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. That was a great explanation. For an unprofessional writer, such as myself, this is an excellent exercise. Filler words only take up space and that is one area, among many, in my writing that I need to improve upon. So, thank you.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. I agree to an extent. I don’t agree that we shouldn’t use adverbs, but I do agree that when we edit, we should look for adj/verb/adv + adv combinations that can be edited out in favor of a better single word. An author whose writing I particularly like put it this way:

    “The problem is your verbs.

    Ha! Thought I was going to give you an easy one, didn’t I? Here’s the thing people miss when they whine about adverbs: there’s nothing wrong with them. Sometimes they are necessary. But the problem is never the adverb. It’s the verb it’s modifying.

    If you say someone “sat gingerly,” instead, say, “she perched.”

    If you say someone “spoke loudly,” instead, say, “she yelled.”

    If you say someone “walked quietly,” instead, say, “she tiptoed.”

    Any time you find yourself slapping down an adverb, look at the verb you’re modifying. Chances are, there’s a better one.”

    Liked by 22 people

      1. Very well said Patrick. I too agree that with an expanded vocabulary better verbs can be chosen but I certainly don’t think that adverbs should never be used. Perhaps better linguistic judgment can be exercised with their use 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

    1. In the second last quotation, I prefer ‘she walked quietly away, saddened by the grief she found in that room’ rather than tiptoed. You see, it’s all about context in the end.

      She spoke loudly but firmly to the her adolescent class, wishing not to yell and attract further attention to her noisy classroom. F

      Liked by 8 people

      1. True! There’s always the subtle nuances in the sentence that should be taken into account, especially if you want it to reflect the tone you want.

        Like

      2. I agree. Personally I like to read subtle and understated verbs in my spare time. It’s probably the welcome break from the dynamic verbs of business-speak I’m dealing with for much of my day. Then you may need a sprinkling of adverbs.
        But point taken, the article is about awareness of their possible overuse.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Great minds think alike, @Patrick.

      rely on strong verbs to convey emotional qualities that imbue your writing with nuance, allowing the reader to fire up their imagination. Consider, for example:

      “She walked proudly out the door.”

      Remove the adverb “proudly” and replace it with a strong verb to denote how she walked:

      She strutted out the door.

      She sashayed out the door.

      She flounced out the door.

      Liked by 1 person

    3. Except when someone is walking quietly, not tiptoeing, because they are in fact walking quietly. Agreed, correct verbs should be used instead of lazy adverbs, but sometimes the ‘lazy adverb’ is the correct description!

      That’s a nice quote by the way, who is the author?

      Like

      1. It’s by Brigid Kemmerer! She wrote the Elemental series. I find it fluffy but the writing is solid and flows incredibly well. 🙂

        That’s interesting though. I use “walked quietly” a lot myself but now that I think about it what would one mean by that? Walking quietly would imply a reason — is the character sneaking away from someone or just trying to keep his/her footsteps light? Sorry, rambling thought haha.

        Like

  2. Thank you @ChrisWarren and @Francesca. I have been exposed to that Stephen King sentiment in a previous creative writing class. It was irritating to censor each and every sentence. Sometimes a writer adamantly needs a great -ly- word.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I am interested to see what this post will bring for me. I think adverbs are necessary to an extent. I happen to feel that I may overuse them at times and will definitely find great use in this assignment.

    Like

  4. My literary soul militates against your denouncement of adverbs. Perhaps they don’t work for Stephen King, but they can, especially when coupled with a well-matched and descriptive verb, prove enormously descriptive and evocative.You could say, for example “She slunk away ignominiously,” which adds the nuance of shame in the verb “slunk.” or “He was indefatigably optimistic,”which strengthens the otherwise average adjective “optimistic.”
    I get that this is an exercise in finding concise verbs, which, when used to the exclusion of adverbs, creates a lean and straight-forward style, made popular by Hemingway and Steinbeck. I still love my adverbs, though, and plan to keep them.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Lovely piece of writing; explicit & implicit argument.
      I would love to see you write a piece where you deliberately chose {abstained} from adverbs or verbs not attached to motion.
      Good writing breaks rules. The unexpected image, unprepared by text. Verbs are less visual than nouns; is that why adverbs can harm?
      I like the advice to re-think the verb to sack the adverb can improve the text, and the unexpected change of direction above, as i was responding to you, and noted my aberration.

      Like

  5. I have an issue with the idea of a “timid” writer. As opposed to what? A dictatorial one? There are such things as doubt or incertitude in life and there is no reason to exclude them from the writing process. However as an exercise this is interesting.

    Like

  6. The irony is is that despite this great advice (advice I see in lots of places) I still see adverbs used all over the place in books considered both well written and successful.

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      1. Totally, and saying I see them all over the place I understand in relation to your being mindful of them. Seems to me in seeing them all over the place (to me at least) implies a lot of not being mindful about them in many respects.

        Like

  7. Well thank you everyone. As it may be seen that each individual have got a different view on the issue, that means we are different. I would rather say a writing without adverbs sounds dull and monotonous though it may be poignant and portraying brevity.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t know if it’s a good thing but I don’t usually use adverbs more often because: 1) I’m not a native English speaker; 2) I don’t know when or how to use it well.

    I’ll try to dig into my journal and see if I could polish them.

    Like

  9. Adverbs are words that modify verbs. Adverbs answer the question how, when, and where. Adverbs can modify adjectives, but an adjective cannot modify an adverb. Adverbs often function as intensifiers, conveying a greater or lesser emphasis to something. Words like “suddenly,” “especially,” and “totally” are all adverbs.
    I believe, the best way to replace adverb is by changing the perspective. Eliminate as many adverbs as possible. Find stronger, active verbs to replace those adverbs. Use active voice. In active voice, the subject performs the action.

    Great article.
    Thanks

    Like

  10. Steven Kings book, On Wrting: A Memoir of the Craft, was the very first book I read for insight on how to be a successful writer. I never realized that I used a lot of adverbs until then, and I still struggle with abandoning the dreaded adverb. Ths post was a great reminder for me to watch my usage of words and I thank you.

    Like

  11. By chance, I went to the gymnasium for a basketball game. This is the hardest for me to do so far. I would like to ask some feedback from you guys. Questions posted here in my report: An on-court (and courtside) basketball game report (Link: wp.me/p1hoAF-sh)

    Like