– Stephen King
The advice in vogue right now is this; get rid of adverbs. All of them, or at least the vast majority, must go if you expect to write well, some will tell you… and if you don’t know what they are (many don’t thanks to failing schools systems) you can get the low-down here.
Stephen King is one of the most famous writers of our time, and, as you may have noticed, a real favourite of mine, but that doesn’t mean his word is gospel to me, or that it should be to you. In his wonderful book On Writing he argues that poor writing has as much to do with fear as a lack of skill, and that adverbs are a sign of this fear. A prop of the timid writer, he claims, and says they are like dandelions; pretty enough, but actually weeds.
There is truth in this, of course.
Most people who give you advice will target a specific kind of adverb – the “ly” kind. Timidly, firmly, menacingly, these are the words that come under fire. But, as Matt Moore points out, any word which alters a verb is an adverb (words like just, really, very, only), and they need not all be ruthlessly weeded out. Nonetheless, minimisation of their usage will amplify the effect of those which are allowed to stay. This is the key point; published works do contain adverbs, yes, but this doesn’t mean that you should pepper every paragraph with them.
Nonetheless, it’s not important how you write your first draft; if every third word is an adverb it doesn’t matter so long as you know how to get rid of the surplus. Chuck Sambucino makes an excellent case for limiting the use of adverbs to significant actions and scenes. Not every word, act, or thought must be unique, poetic and memorable; a written story is like driving down a motorway; you don’t turn the wheel unless you hit a curve or turning point. If you find yourself using the dreaded “ly” adverbs ask if it’s because you are unsure of how your writing is coming across, or if you actually need a different word. For example, saying someone shouted loudly gets the message across, but really you could simply say they shouted, or replace that with bellowed, roared, screamed.
So what do you think? Is the road to (writing) hell really paved with adverbs?