In Defence of Adverbs

Did the title make your blood bubble up like a boiling pot and your eyes bulge out of your head? Yeah. That’s the reaction I usually get when I tell people that I like adverbs.

We’ve heard it all before. Adverbs are the spawn of all evil. They ruin perfectly good books. They destroy authors’ careers. They sneak into the homes of unsuspecting writers late at night and devour the precious pages of half-finished manuscripts!

… All right, that last one was a bit exaggerated, but you know what I mean. Authors continually rant and rave about the evils and the dangers of adverbs. Stephen King went so far as to say “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” Those are some pretty strong words.

So why do authors hate adverbs so much? The general consensus is that adverbs are the mark of a lazy writer. A sentence like “Tabitha walked down the hall with deliberate steps” sounds a lot better than “Tabitha walked confidently down the hall.” As a general rule, it is usually better to show the reader rather than tell her. In my first example, the reader can deduce that Tabitha is confident by the description of her walk style. In the second example, the readers are just being told that Tabitha is confident. It’s easy to see why writers would shy away from using adverbs when there are so many other ways to describe their settings and characters.

“Wait a minute, aren’t you here to tell me why adverbs are great?” you ask. I don’t know if I would use the word great, but I am here to point out some of the merits of using adverbs… in moderation.

Like anything else in writing, adverbs can be overused. I’m not advocating littering your next manuscript with as many adverbs as you can stuff between the pages, but adverbs do play their part in writing. They shine in situations where you want to be brief in order to pick up the pace of a scene. While some might think adverbs are the mark of a lazy writer, I prefer to think of them as the mark of a concise writer.

Nothing bogs down a fast-paced scene more than long, flowery sentences with lots of complex description. In situations like these, I want to keep my sentences short and to-the-point. I want an action to follow after an action in order to maintain that sense of urgency my scene needs. Occasionally, I might need to explain how an action is being carried out, but I don’t want to disrupt the pace of my scene by suddenly going into a long description. I want to keep the momentum going. That’s when I opt for an adverb in place of a longer description. During times like these, the last thing I want is to take a paragraph to describe what could have been said in one word.

A word of caution when using adverbs, however. Avoid them at all costs when writing intense, emotional scenes. When I want my readers to weep bitterly onto the pages over some heartwrenching tragedy or to feel a warm glow in the centre of their hearts over a touching moment, an adverb isn’t going to evoke much of anything. Adverbs are useful in some situations, but they don’t exactly pack an emotional punch.

My advice? Don’t shy away from adverbs when one is needed to maintain brevity, but do away with them when you want your reader to linger on your words and savour each and every one.

Copyright © 2017 A.A. Frias

4 thoughts on “In Defence of Adverbs

    1. That’s a good point! There’s no need to describe an action that is self-explanatory in itself. I also find that adverbs that end in “ly” generally look a lot more obtrusive than adverbs that don’t.

      Thank you for the comment.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! Adverbs are not the spawn of Satan. Of course they can be overused and make your writing lifeless and redundant, but the same can be said for any other literary device or technique. Everything in balance and moderation.

      Thanks for the comment!


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