Adverbs: I Finally Get It.

I wrote the first draft of my very first story in complete, blissful ignorance. I'm telling you guys, this is the way to write. I thought I was the best. writer. ever.

Luckily, when I started researching agents online--the day after I finished my draft--I also came across a lot of valuable information on writing and realized I was far from ready to send my baby out into the wild.

One of the things I kept reading was the evil of adverbs. I didn't get it.

Then, I came across a blog post explaining it. I wish I could remember the blog I read it on, because they explain it better than I can, but pretty much they said that adverbs are a stand-in for weak writing. When you use an adverb, you spare yourself the need to show the emotion or action you're trying to portray, but you also spare your reader the need to care or imagine.

I read my first draft to my kids with this advice in mind, and it mostly made sense. Plus, have you ever tried to read something out loud when it's riddled with adverbs? Those suckers are hard to spit out!

I was still a bit confused, though. I mean, I like the occasional adverb myself, but some people shun them entirely. It all made sense, though, when I read a certain book (which will remain unnamed) the other day.

You guys. The adverbs in this thing. Not only were there over 1000 (yay, Kindle search feature!) but some of them were really weird. Understandingly. Scoldingly. Exasperatedly. Defeatedly. I understand these are real words, but they're kind of like the tweens of the English language: so awkward. And distracting all lined up in a row like that.

I was so entertained by this blatant use of adverbs, though, that I started reading the story out loud to my husband. He could only take about one page, after we counted eight adverbs in one paragraph and three in one sentence. He asked me how I would change the sentence structure to get rid of the adverb but keep the same meaning. In almost every instance, the solution was to just drop the adverb and let the context do the talking. If the showing-not-telling is in good shape (which is was in this story, I should point out), the adverbs aren't needed. It's like the Hulk saying, "I'm ridiculously, unequivocally, resoundingly, unabashedly ANGRY!" And we're like, "Yeah, Hulk, we know. You're green." See? No adverbs needed.



Konstanz Silverbow said...

Oh my goodness, Thank you so much! I have never understood why the adverb is hated and shouldn't be used. And after reading this, it makes sense.

Konstanz Silverbow

Anonymous said...

Haha, when the Hulk explains adverbs, everything makes sense. ;) An adverb thesaurus would sort of be the best thing ever, but The Bookshelf Muses's Emotion Thesaurus is as close as it gets. Making an adverb thesaurus for the adverbs you use the most isn't a bad idea, though.

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

That was a fabulous post!
I'm still cleaning adverbs out of my writing. It's like the laundry- it's never done.

meradeth said...

I'll admit it--I use adverbs occasionally :) But I do try to cut them out, because you're totally right, they don't add much. Thank heavens for the find feature in word, too! (And still giggling over the Hulk reference, classic!)

Caryn Caldwell said...

Wow. Nothing like an example of what doesn't work to show you what does, right? The worst are weak verbs + adverbs that take the place of strong verbs. (e.g. "he said scoldingly" instead of "he scolded.") There are so many fun verbs out there to play with, you know?

Christine Tyler said...

How did I miss this post?! It's amazing! I love it!

"I'm ridiculously, unequivocally, resoundingly, unabashedly ANGRY!" Bahaha. Perfect.

Peggy Eddleman said...

Such a great point! So... I think the lesson here is to think of one of your weaknesses, and then find a book that has that weakness times a million, and learn from it. Sounds like a good way to me!