Adverb Adverse

photo credit: quinn.anya via photopin cc

photo credit: quinn.anya via photopin cc


I’ll admit to being ‘adverb adverse’. It’s one of my reading pet peeves  I’m reading along, immersed in the story when I start to notice them. And once I do, every one becomes a drop of water on my forehead, drip, drip, dripping until I want to heave the book.  They irritate me enough that I will put a book down, no matter whose name is on the cover.

Why? Because it’s lazy writing. It’s the easy way out – the first thing you think of. The problem is, it’s the first thing everyone thinks of. It’s Margie Lawson’s ‘invitation to skim’.

Let’s see if I can convince you that I’m right.

I read somewhere that putting in an adverb is like saying, “I really, really, mean this.” And as a reader, don’t you assume that if an author put it in, they meant it? Adverbs are overkill. If you feel you need an adverb, I’d make the case that your sentence needs work rather than the band-aid of an adverb.

Yes, I know, some famous author’s books are littered with them. I use them now and again myself. But my point is — you should scrutinize every one before you put it in. For example – which is better?

“She lightly knocked on the door.”

“She tapped on the door. It echoed in her ears like an axe to a carcass.”

The above example is from Chuck Sambuchino’s amazing blog. You can read it all here.

See what I mean? An adverb can be your signal of a place that you can strengthen your writing.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying you can never use another adverb. There are times when you need one.

  • To see how authors I respect used adverbs I turned to my hero, Pat Conroy. He doesn’t use many, but when he does, it’s for the poetic cadence. How do I know this? He’s been known to spend an hour, just getting one sentence right. This is from South of Broad:

“I went directly from a fearful childhood to a hopeless one without skipping a beat.”

“I found myself thoroughly unable to fulfill my enhanced duties as an only child.”

  • Sometimes you want to be over the top; when you DO mean to say, ‘really, really’. This is from my August release, Sweet on You:

Irritation oozed into the cracks in her armor. She now officially hated that accent.

The pulse pounding blood to her face was proof that you couldn’t actually die of embarrassment.

  • Adverbs can work in dialog as well – they help give a natural feel. From my other August release, The Reasons to Stay:

“That is exactly the last thing I want.”

“I’m only trying to wake your ass up. Life isn’t safe, or neat and tidy.”

“You really must think I’m an ass.”

So what’s the Fix? Easy. Do a ‘find’ for ‘ly’ in your manuscript. Read the sentence with the adverb, Unless you really, really need it (Yes, I’m smirking), strengthen the sentence by editing it out. I make the case that your sentence and your writing will be stronger without it.

If you DO decide to leave the adverb, use it consciously. Have a reason for it being there – other than you were in a hurry.

So here’s your assignment: Open a chapter of your WIP (work in progress) and do a find for ‘ly’.

Oh, and don’t be depressed if you have a lot of them. In writing this blog, I discovered, from my own search, that I’m in love with the word ‘only’ and didn’t realize it.


So have I convinced you to be ‘adverb adverse’?

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