Monday, March 21, 2011

Adverbs Don't Bother Me

Okay, okay, I'm not trying to start a fight. There are literally an endless supply of resources for writers. Books. Blogs. Chats. More books. Internet sites. Conferences. If you want to become a better writer, there are resources to help you with that.

Today, I'm going to stand up proudly for the adverb. It's not this dangerous disesase-carrying cat-zombie that sometimes it's made out to be. I mean, seriously.

Do I think sometimes adverbs could be replaced with a better verb? Yes.
Do I think sometimes the emotion should be shown instead of adverbed out? Yes.
Do I think sometimes an adverb is like a well-seasoned bite of pot roast? YES.

Adverbs are not monsters. They don't have to be avoided at all costs. You don't necessarily need to comb your entire 80-thousand-word manuscript and eliminate each and every one.

I think sometimes we freak out over things that are not freak-out-worthy. So I declare today pro-adverb day! Everything I write, I'm going to write frilly and fancy and lovely, and I'm going to do it happily, grumpily, disgustedly, quickly, slowly, and amazingly.

Will you join me? Do adverbs get a bad rap? What other "writing rules" have you read/heard/learned that sometimes just annoy you?

86 comments:

Laura Pauling said...

I have no problem with adverbs when they are done right. No problem at all. I have a few in my work, and that's all I need.

Someone needs to stand up for the poor guy.

Sarah said...

I'm with you on this. Although adverbs can be used excessively and misused in creative writing in the ways you described, I think they're necessary sometimes. When I am writing or beta-reading, I read any sentence with an adverb both with it and without it. If something key is missing without it, it stays. There's a reason adverbs are part of our language.

Read my books; lose ten pounds! said...

I agree completely. I love love love writting something out, explaining it completely, but sometimes an adverb well do, make it less fluffy and more readable.

Steph said...

Agreed! I think we take the "rules" a little too far sometimes. I also don't mind a few gerunds. Sometimes it just sounds better...

Beth said...

I love adverbs. More than I should. Usually right up until I read a sentence that has 4-5 of them in it. Not that that will ever stop me from using them.

Like all parts of the sentence, adverbs are necessary at times. And used correctly, they can keep your sentences shorter and more succinct, as well. So yeah, definitely a bad rap.

Another writing rule that annoys me sometimes: Never use any dialog tag other than said.

Theresa Milstein said...

I'm with you. If JK Rowling could create an empire partially based on adverbs, so can we.

Though I do have watch out for "so".

Andrea Mack said...

Elana, I love adverbs too. I try not to use too many in my writing, but occasionally they fit. I think like all the rest of the words, you need to think about them carefully and make sure they have a purpose.

Natalie Aguirre said...

I agree. Glad I'm not alone in this. And I find some main characters telling us lots about other characters rather than the story showing it. Just saying.

Cassandra Frear said...

So funny! I could not agree with you more.

Now here's an interesting tidbit: quite a few editors have ADDED adverbs to my copy when they tighten it up.

Chew on that one for a while!

Lydia Sharp said...

I think sometimes we freak out over things that are not freak-out-worthy.

Indeed. :)

Jen Daiker said...

One thing I'm learning that it's important in your writing career is to not always listen to the advice you're given. It's okay to go with your gut, use an extra adverb if you feel it's right. Of course don't get carried away but no one has made it super successful with following every single rule... you know why? Because rules were meant to be broken - sometimes.

Michelle McLean said...

ha! I am the adverb queen (as you probably know) :D I love me some adverbs. They mostly bug me in dialogue tags (most of which can go anyways). But if you've read ANY of my stuff, you know how fond I am of a good adverb :D

Matthew MacNish said...

This has me thinking of schoolhouse rock, which is awesome!

And I do agree. I think that if you eliminate most of the adverbs that seem to pop up on their own, you don't have to get rid of all of them. And sometimes you can have too many strong descriptive verbs. Regular verbs with a little adverb thrown in from time to time can ease the voice a little.

Another "rule" I hate is having to replace dialog tags with some action that makes it clear who's speaking. I have an ensemble cast, so there are often scenes where three or more people are speaking. That makes for a lot of feet shuffling, arm crossing, sighing, gazing and what not. Sometimes he said she said just works.

Magan said...

At first I thought this was kind of like "Shoo fly, Adverbs don't bother me." But now I see that it's the opposite. I like me some adverbs and I can't help it, BUT I do hate the use of SAT words in any form of literature. If I didn't know what the word was on the SAT then I'm not going to look it up for a novel I'm reading.

Jonathon Arntson said...

Really? I totally thought you'd be the type who would distinctly despise adverbs and dutifully slash them out of your prolifically written MS's.

:P

fairyhedgehog said...

I totally agree!

Donna Weaver said...

Yay! A woman afte my own heart! As I've been combing my ms to to remove the unnecessary ones, I find that it can frequently take more words to say the thing a single adverbs does so well. And it's especially tough with dialogue. People TALK with adverbs. But I've also found using adverbs can be an easy out and relying on them too heavily doesn't necessarily bring out the best of your writing.

haha so how many adverbs did I just use. =D

Bish Denham said...

If adverbs were good enough for L. Frank Baum and J. K. Rolling surely they're good enough for me. (She said flexing her brain mightily.)

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I have no issues with adverbs if they're not abused. Though I've been avoiding reading Harry Potter again since I cringe at the amount of adverbs JK Rowling uses and doesn't need to.

Leah Petersen said...

#likeexceedingly

Kelly said...

I don't even notice if someone uses or abuses adverbs. But when I write my ms, I do use them, but I try to use strong verbs instead (because of their bad rap). I am reading a beautifully descriptive book right now that has an adverb here and there, and they work well in the story.

Ishta Mercurio said...

A well-chosen, well-placed adverb can make a passage.

The thing about "rules" is knowing how and when to break them.

Tracey Neithercott said...

I'm not really a fan, but I think that's because I've been trained to hate them. So now when I see them they bother me greatly. They didn't when I was just a reader and didn't know adverbs were certainly from the devil. Though I try to eliminate a lot of them from my story, I use them liberally on my blog, in emails and, apparently, in comments.

Erica Mitchell-Spickard said...

I used to have no problem with adverbs, but it was because I was weak on my verbage. Now, if they are in abundance I get annoyed :S It has been a bit drilled in that I am to avoid those suckers, but I do use them when I HAVE to because sometimes you just need them.

As far as the other rules we learn along the way, it can make writing less fun at times. Moderation, moderation. Enjoy your lovely, adverbally day!

Cindy Blog-A-Liddle said...

Up With Adverbs! Where do I get my tee-shirt?

Kerri Cuev said...

Adverbs get a bad rap. I'm glad someone is taking a stand and helping them to the light side of the force.

Mary Campbell said...

I'm with you on this Elana. A well-placed adverb can be the perfect thing for a sentence.
Moderation in all things is the key.
I feel the same way about telling Vs. showing. Sometimes you just have to tell. You can't show everything - a novel would be miles long and full of drivel - in my opinion.
I believe these so called rules can make us a more effective writer, but we should never take them to the extreme. Once you know and understand a rule - you then understand how to break them. See, I used the word "then" - oh no, I broke another rule.

NaKesha said...

I tend to over use adverbs in the first draft of my writing but usually I go back and "show the emotion" rather than tell it. I still see no problem with adverbs either.

Elana Johnson said...

Phew. I seriously prolonged coming to my blog today, afraid I'd be torn up one side and down the other regarding adverb usage.

Yay! Adverbs, FTW! Just for today, mind you. After that, it's back to pot roast.

Solvang Sherrie said...

DUDE! I'm so with you on this! Sometimes an adverb works better than anything else and seriously, a book without any would just sound bizarre.

Lydia K said...

I only dislike excessive adverbs or when the author is just taking the easy way out for describing certain things.
Great post!

Lana said...

From skimming over the comments, it looks like we all agree that an occasional adverb is okay. But knowing when it is okay is the key. My rule is this: when the adverb changes the meaning of the verb, it's a good adverb.

smiled happily = bad adverb
smiled sadly = good adverb

killing me fiercely = bad adverb
killing me softly = good adverb

(I learned this from a great book called "Writing Tools" by Roy Peter Clark.)

Karen Lange said...

I agree! I keep an eye on them but don't go overboard. Sometimes you just need to use them. :)

Sara B. Larson said...

When used excessively, yes, they can be a problem. But even the best books out there have plenty of adverbs in them. I think it's all in how you use them. I agree, it can add spice.

Shari said...

All I have to say is -- THANK YOU!!!!

L.T. Elliot said...

Amen. I think some people get so carried away with the "avoiding" of adverbs that the phrasing ends up sounding just...weird. A couple of adverbs isn't the end of the world.

Shannon O'Donnell said...

I heart you big right now!! I am an adverbaholic, which is not a good thing, but I've never believed they should be considered such a plague. They can be very effective sometimes! :-)

A Backwards Story said...

I've been known to use adverbs in the past. After a writing friend critiqued me and said they should never be used, I try to tone it down. With my current WIP, whenever I catch myself using one, I think about whether or not I can write the sentence without it and how it holds up. Of the three or four I tried to use in one chapter recently, I kept one.

This was a great, thought-provoking post :)

Heather said...

In my first creative writing class there was a guy who would always write DEATH TO ADVERBS on the top of my story/chapter. But once I "found my voice" I realized my voice liked the sound of adverbs. Besides, rules are meant to be broken, right?

Patti said...

I'm totally jumping on your band wagon. A few well placed adverbs is more than acceptable.

Catherine Denton said...

Kind a relief to hear you say this! **stands and waves ADVERBS RULE flag**
My Blog

Myra McEntire said...

Can't get ... past ... cat ... zombie .........

Elle Strauss said...

My thoughts exactly!

Kristin Rae said...

I'm with you!! It really seems like every aspect of writing has been spoken against by someone. Don't start in a dream, don't start with dialogue, don't use semicolons.... it's all preference and opinion when it comes right down to it.

Colene Murphy said...

Awe. I love you for saying this! CAT ZOMBIE!? I think I spit, laughing at that. Nice.

Janet, said...

Yes, they tell you everywhere not to use adverbs in your writing. So, I try not to. But then, I read published books with adverbs on every page, so what is a person supposed to do? I guess we should use common sense and use them sparingly.

Jordan McCollum said...

Hooray! I so agree.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Absolutely!!

lisanowak said...

I take all writing rules with a grain of salt. Usually they're thrown about as if they were the laws of physics. In reality, they can't be applied the same way across all situations, and sometimes they can and should be ignored completely. That's not to say you shouldn't be aware of the rules, just that you shouldn't be a slave to them.

T.J. said...

My day is made to see the defense of the adverb! I love adverbs. They're so awesomely fantastic! People need to stop shunning them as if they're annoyingly craptastic! Go Adverbs! I'm going to use one every five minutes today (okay, not really, I may have other things to do.) But I do celebrate the adverb GLADLY!

Nicole Zoltack said...

I agree. There are times when an adverb should be used. If you can use a stronger noun or verb to get rid of the adverb, great. If not, the adverb might need to stay. Removing them all would be awful!

Annette Lyon said...

YES! I know too many writer (pubbed and not) who think it's a hard and fast rule to never use adverbs, when of course the reality is to use them like any other tool--when they're most effective. (Which means not all the time, but which also means THERE IS A PLACE FOR THEM.)

So basically, um, amen? :)

Gabriela Pereira said...

I totally agree about the adverbs!

The writing rule that I can't stand is when people hate on the passive voice. Passive voice exists for a purpose: to hide the subject of a sentence. Try getting an active verb to do that! Sure, passive voice gets misused a lot, but that's not it's fault... it's the victim. The writers who misuse it are the perpetrators.

Seriously, though, adverbs are not illegitimate step-siblings of verbs. They are important and serve a function in our language. Thank you, Elana, for standing up for the underdogs of grammar.

Wishing you an adverb-a-licious day!

Kathryn said...

I'm with you! I think adverbs get a bad reputation because they can be used "lazily", but on the other hand, if we go out of our way to omit them all, sometimes you can almost feel it in the writing!

Krispy said...

I feel like in the subjective world of writing, we're always looking for hard and fast rules to hang on to. So like adverbs, they totally get a bad rap. Just because they can be a mark of lazy writing doesn't mean they always are. I think they also fall into the category of "everything in moderation." Sprinkle some in, but don't overdose on them.

kellyhashway said...

I try to avoid adverbs when I can. Do some make their way into my manuscript? Of course. But when I can show something using a strong verb or body language, I'll choose doing that over using an adverb.

Liesl said...

I like the word begrudgingly. I do a lot of things begrudgingly. I begrudgingly do the filthy laundry. I begrudgingly change crappy diapers. I begrudgingly comb my manuscripts for excessively excess adverbs.

Heather said...

Well said! I think adverbs do get a bad rap and it's sometimes undeserving. I used to have an adverb problem but now I've learned to cut them out so much that I now have a shortage! When used sparingly adverbs can carry quite the punch. ;)

Lindsay said...

I don't mind adverbs if they are used properly (ha, I used one. lol). If I'm writing/critting etc, I like to point out places where adverbs pull me from the story, or a better word could be used to create the same effect.
But I hate the 'all adverbs are bad' rule.

Anita Saxena said...

I totally agree with you.

Briar said...

"You don't necessarily need to comb your entire 80-thousand-word manuscript and eliminate each and every one."

Was that directed at me? Ha ha I've been revising my manuscript today and have cut out more than my fair share of adverbs . . . but I've left a bunch in too *evil smirk* Thanks!

Shallee said...

One of the things I love about adverbs is that they signify places where I can expand a bit in revisions. Sometimes, I do keep the adverb, because sometimes it's just what I need to say what I'm trying to. But even when I don't keep them, I love them for pointing out where I can be better!

Talli Roland said...

I agree, I agree, I AGREEEEEE! Stand up for adverbs! I love them! And exclamation marks! Clearly!

Donna Hole said...

Woohoo for adverbs. Sometimes, they are just the perfect, concise way of saying something and moving on.

Same with adjectives.

Both can be overused - and when they are it is usually obvious - but they are not bad words in my book.

......dhole

Angela Felsted said...

This made me laugh.

Marsha Sigman said...

This post is seriously awesome!!lol

I will proudly stand up for all the lonely adverbs whose function is clearly misunderstood and wrongfully, woefully misrepresented!

Now my head hurts.

The whole passive voice/passive voice in past tense kills me. Too many rules and then exceptions to rules to keep up with!

Michael Offutt said...

I think that the people that target the adverb are for the most part academics. Everything has its use ya know? Anyways, very good point you made here.

Sarah said...

I'm okay with adverbs, too. They're certainly not freak-out worthy, imho. Mostly I think it's a matter of everything in moderation.

ali said...

I am bravely standing with you to give credence to the adverb! Rah!

Jemi Fraser said...

it's the overdone, overcooked, overused adverbs that give me a headache! :)

Jessica Love said...

I've seen a few people mention Harry Potter...OMG I am listening to HP on audio right now and I think the audio makes me even more aware at the adverbs in every single dialogue and describing every single action.

It's funny because I like adverbs too, and they don't bother me when she does it, I am just SO aware of it because everyone acts like adverbs are the devil.

Lynda R Young said...

I did a post last year about this topic. Glad you brought it up. Every rule is breakable. It's just knowing how and when.

Carolyn V said...

Depends on the adverb. Some drive me crazy, others...I'm totally fine with.

Holly Ruggiero said...

Agreed.

Katie Anderson said...

I'm so glad you said this. I totally agree!!!! :)

Melanie Hooyenga said...

I enjoy the occasional adverb. It's better for me than chocolate. :)

Elizabeth Mueller said...

Hi, Elana! I used to LOVE purple prose. Well, I still do. I'm a poet at heart! I've found that a passage could be painted more vividly without the use of an adverb which denies the showing aspect.

I feel, sometimes, that rules stifle the creative soul. It's like telling an artist s/he can't use his/her own style unless they want to be out there.

Oh well..
♥.•*¨ Elizabeth ¨*•.♥

Meredith said...

Yay! I use too many in my writing where I could use a strong verb instead, but sometimes a well-chosen adverb is just the thing.

LTM said...

as always, it depends. I'm not one to ditch every single adverb either, but I do try to use them like a strong spice... a little goes a long way~ :o) <3

Michelle said...

I agree! Sometimes the adverb moves the writing, gives it energy and makes it delicious to read.
But right now I'm reading a book with overkill of adverbs... it's annoying!

Kari Marie said...

Well, all the rules usually annoy me at some point or another. Probably because they make me think about what I'm writing. I like adverbs, but I've started to see where too many take away from what I'm trying to say. So I sprinkle them in.

Donea Lee said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Donea Lee said...

Hi Elana! I like to look at the rules as more "guidelines". :) I've got sentence fragments, passive voice, and adverbs all over the place. And I like a good prologue, personally. But, knowing the rules helps me rein it all in as needed, during revisions especially.

Carol Riggs said...

Haha, good to point out. As long as a writer is using adverbs JUDICIOUSLY and totally aware of how and why, I think it's fine. It's better to have a solid plot and intriguing, growing characters than fret over how many adverbs you have!

Witless Exposition said...

While I love Hemingway and writers of his style, I also love the flowery and frilly writing you're talking about. I think it comes down to the type of book and the author's style. Adverbs can be our friends. Glad you stood up for them!

Janet Johnson said...

Daintily sitting her at the lovely computer, I deeply ponder the fascinatingly simple yet complex subject you so wittingly addressed.

:D Love it!

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