D.R.Parker's picture
D.R.Parker from Ogden, Utah is reading Finders Keepers May 5, 2014 - 6:10pm

Why is using adverbs a bad thing when writing fiction? I keep hearing this advice, but not a real reason.

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore May 5, 2014 - 7:15pm

Not all adverbs, just excessive ones. They can make the prose flabby. In the case of those that modify an adjective, the adjective is already doing the describing, so do we really need another descriptor describing the descriptor? With verbs, those should do the heavy lifting in a sentence, and if it requires an adverb to clarify it, you probably haven't picked the most precise verb. Why say "a strongly worded letter" when you could say "a scathing letter" (which is clearer, anyway). Or why say "she walked leisurely" when you could just say "she ambled"? Etc.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal May 5, 2014 - 7:42pm

he calls it flabby prose, (which i like), i call it bogging it down.  sometimes saying someone's long, brown hair is just too much.  throw a "damp" in front of it and... ugh.

in fact, it's amazing how much the reader's imagination can fill in when you don't do it yourself.  i've noticed this a lot lately, looking for it.  mockingjay is an example i use since so many have read it- district 13, hardly described physically in any detail, but to this day i can remember it vividly, how i imagined it.  plutarch heavesnbee was not once described at all, at least that i caught- and i was specifically looking for it.  but did anyone ever care?

melmurphy's picture
melmurphy from Spokane is reading "Julian" by Gore Vidal May 5, 2014 - 9:03pm

D.R., try deleting adverbs from your writing. It's done wonders for mine. Tightens everything up, forces you to write succinct sentences and it's fabulous when you have a 6,102-word short story and you have to trim it to 5,000.

 

http://www.users.qwest.net/~yarnspnr/writing/adverbs/adverbs.htm

selenem's picture
selenem from Ontario, Canada is reading The Cider House Rules, by John Irving May 5, 2014 - 10:48pm

I agree. Adverbs, for the most part, are just word clutter. They're okay once in a while but a lot of the time they're unnecessary and redundant.

justwords's picture
justwords from suburb of Birmingham, AL is reading The Tomb, F. Paul Wilson; A Long Way Down, Nick Hornby May 5, 2014 - 10:55pm

First rule I learned in writing: Omit needless words.. courtesy of Strunk and White. Powerful prose is often terse. Doesn't mean you can't be descriptive, but every word should count--just like an assasin knows how many hits/knives/bullets he needs to accomplish his mission. Same way awesome women know how to hold back on a glance, lower the eyes just so, walk away with a graceful but undeniably suggestive demeanor.

Too much is too much usually. Many times, editors are not liked by authors; no one really likes criticism. But a good editor/critic will help you turn your good idea into a masterpiece. 

CheffoJeffo's picture
CheffoJeffo from Toronto is reading 'PERDIDO STREET STATION' and 'THRILL ME' May 6, 2014 - 2:58am

I love this article by Matt Moore on the "No Adverbs" rule:

http://mattmoorewrites.com/2012/10/18/the-avoid-adverbs-rule-is-very-wrong/

Gets to the same place (no lazy or weak writing!) without dumbing down the advice.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 6, 2014 - 3:49am

Adverbs are bad?

Very.

jyh's picture
jyh from VA is reading whatever he feels like May 6, 2014 - 10:44am

"The Bible is the product of divine inspiration" is no better than "The Bible is divinely inspired" in my opinion. Yes, sometimes a better adjective or verb can be found; but in this particular case it's the same two basic roots and concepts, and the adverb version is actually more economical.

Ambling can be a result of leisure, but it can also be an expression of lack of direction or care, which is not necessarily the same. Context can help. An unhappy homeless man might amble but not do so with leisure, while a happy homeless man might amble due to a belief in his infinite leisure.

Jack Campbell Jr.'s picture
Jack Campbell Jr. from Lawrence, KS is reading American Rust by Phillipp Meyer May 6, 2014 - 12:07pm

I call it "neutering." Un-needed adverbs steal impact from the sentence, as do thought verbs and being verbs. I don't agree that all adverbs are bad. They exist for a reason. If you can't re-write a stronger sentence by taking them out, then they can be used. People tend to go too far and overuse them.

Bradley Sands's picture
Bradley Sands from Boston is reading Greil Marcus's The History of Rock 'N' Roll in Ten Songs May 6, 2014 - 1:10pm

Adverbs that precede verbs usually make sentences that sound like nails against a chalkboard in my brain.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 6, 2014 - 2:15pm

Adverbs are like cars.  Most people aren't as good with them as they think they are, and the results can be very bad.  

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal May 6, 2014 - 3:16pm

^

how about driving trucks in the snow?

Gordon Highland's picture
Gordon Highland from Kansas City is reading Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore May 6, 2014 - 4:18pm

Adverbs are like cars. Most people aren't as good with them as they think they are, and the results can be very bad.

So, they're like similes, then?  a-hahahahaha

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 6, 2014 - 5:37pm

That too.

D.R.Parker's picture
D.R.Parker from Ogden, Utah is reading Finders Keepers May 20, 2014 - 7:55am

I would like to thank you all for the great explanations. I have read The Elements of Style by White and Strunk. It's like reading a medical journal in a dead language. I just don't have a good hold of it yet. Writing the first draft is so much fun, yet re-writing is like trying to pull out my own teeth with greasy pliers. Knowlege sinks in best for me when simplified. Thanks again for all of your advice. 

D.R.Parker's picture
D.R.Parker from Ogden, Utah is reading Finders Keepers May 20, 2014 - 7:58am

Instead of a spell checker, I need and adverb checker.

 

R.Moon's picture
R.Moon from The City of Champions is reading The Last Thing He Wanted by Joan Didion; Story Structure Architect by Victoria Lynn Schimdt PH.D; Creating Characters by the editors of Writer's Digest May 20, 2014 - 12:30pm

Adverbs are like acne: until you get proactive, your story's gonna be bumpy.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal May 21, 2014 - 6:38pm

oh, so we're playing that game now, eh..?

adverbs are like nukes.  best if used sparingly.

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated May 22, 2014 - 4:16am

Can we go for old sayings that don't make sense game instead?  You can't quack the duck until you page the drive way!

Utah's picture
Moderator
Utah from Fort Worth, TX is reading Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry May 22, 2014 - 6:51am

Dwayne, I can quack my duck pretty much any time I can find a place with a little privacy.

bryanhowie's picture
bryanhowie from FW, ID is reading East of Eden. Steinbeck is FUCKING AMAZING. May 30, 2014 - 5:52am

I tried for years to avoid adverbs, which was great practice for the practicle application of adverbs, which is to use them when they are necessary.  Most are not necessary; some are.

It always reminds me of one of my favorite quotes that applies to most rules/guidelines:

Not always so.  It may be so, but it is not always so.

-Shunryu Suzuki

 

Great book on Zen.  Not Always So.

Taylor L Scheid's picture
Taylor L Scheid from Utah is reading The Fall June 24, 2014 - 7:55am

I really love that when people say "never use adverbs," they are in fact using an adverb. :3

Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 29, 2014 - 7:03am

D.R., check out hemingwayapp.com.  It'll point them out to you.

I've read plenty of writers that use adverbs and it's fine.  It also depends on voice.  If it's a first person account, it's not totally bad to use them because that's how people talk.  It's just that most adverbs either don't add much, or other words are better suited.  He didn't run quickly, he sprinted.  He didn't lazily throw, he lobbed.

Frank Menser's picture
Frank Menser from North Carolina August 7, 2014 - 5:47am

New here, but have to get the feet wet somewhere ...

 

I like adverbs. When used properly they enhance writing and lend to the unique 'voice' of the writer. True that they can be used excessively - but also true it can go too far in the other direction.

IMHO  ... Adverbs are a tool like any other in the trade. The problem is not the tools - but how you use them.

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault August 7, 2014 - 10:54am

I now rarely ever find myself wanting to use an adverb, but when I do it's almost always just to talk to the reader, Big Voice style. Almost never to describe what's going on and how it's going on. Whenever I read a book and someone does something concisely or impatiently, I feel a little gyped. Like, come on man, you could've thought that out a bit better.

Redd Tramp's picture
Redd Tramp from Los Angeles, CA is reading Mongrels by SGJ; Sacred and Immoral: On the Writings of Chuck Palahniuk; The History of Sexuality by Michel Foucault August 7, 2014 - 10:57am

Though I agree they can be used for interesting effects. Simple adverbs, like gently, and even then only if it really brings something to the table.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal August 7, 2014 - 9:08pm

So... adverbs best used sparingly, when nothing else will suffice?

Frank Menser's picture
Frank Menser from North Carolina August 8, 2014 - 4:08am

I wouldn't say sparingly. IMO used to best effect.

I have read some great stories rich in adverbs and some also good where adverbs were scarce. I think the mistake is in trying (as some do) to fit a prescribed rule instead of just writing the story.