Writing 101, Day Eight: 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.

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  1. Why strong verbs for this, but not strong words for speaking? You just said we should avoid anything other than “said”. I think I get it, but would like you to explain the distinction.


  2. Always liked that King quote…with the adverb.
    Good vocabulary is one of the best tools for writers…as long as you don’t end up sounding like the kid who just discovered a thesaurus. Ah, restraint, flow, concise, and precise.
    (Or if you feel totally bonkers, and want a giggle, write/rewrite replacing every single word you can with an -ly adverb. Might end up with a winning entry for the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest…they have genre categories and Dishonorable Mentions. If hilarious is more your mood today.)


  3. Wow… I’d love to follow this assignment, but is way above my league :) by the way…

    I’ve been asked by other blogger fellow to provide a link to the 50th post milestone batch I made myself the other day, for my Intuitive writing post which is here:

    Here is the link for the file: (It’s 1272 pixels wide because I use the ryu theme, but you can easily modified yourself)

    How many posts you’ve reached so far on your blog?


  4. As a former journalist and high school English teacher, I concur with this article. While I do feel that it was harsh when describing writers who use adverbs as “timid”, I do agree that adverbs are overused. Writing sans adverbs may seem to be a Herculean task, but I could be a fun challenge if you let it be.


  5. For those seeking more descriptive vocabulary, I suggest using a different dictionary rather than a thesaurus. Personally, I’ve found Webster’s 1913 edition quite useful; case in point: the letter assignment. I was able to change the word “guilt” to “pained for some evil.” I can’t take all the credit though: this blog helped.


  6. I’m in over my head with this one. (I think there may be adverbs in that sentence.) If you’re familiar with Dave Barry’s “Ask Mr. Language Person” columns, then you’ll have a fair idea about (adverb?) my level of grammatical expertise. I reviewed my previous blogs and could pick out the ‘ly’ adverbs, but beyond that, I see no reason to hope.


  7. I have mixed feelings about a lot of these ‘writing rules’ – show/tell – adverbs/no adverbs, etc. I find I like an eclectic writing palette, and sometimes I actually prefer adverbs and telling. I think knowing the rules (and when to break them) works too!


  8. This challenge is complex, and yet i can’t wait to see what i come up with. It’s fun to play around with words and how they are written; i have to pretend on this one since i am at work, which is extremely boring. I could use my school setting…this assignment is tricky.