What’s Wrong with Adverbs?
By Renee Scattergood
When you decide to become a serious writer, one of the things drilled into you from the start is use adverbs sparingly, especially the –ly ones. Yes, I did that on purpose because I find it funny that we’re told not to limit our use of adverbs with the use of an adverb. At first, I was really paranoid about using them. Then one day I realized, I didn’t even know why we’re supposed to avoid them. I started asking people and the most common answers were “they make your work look amateurish” and “that’s how it’s always been done”.
Not good enough.
When I am told not to use something in my writing, I want to know why it’s considered amateurish and why it’s always been done that way. Otherwise, as far as I’m concerned, people do it because someone decided one day he or she didn’t like adverbs and forced their view on everyone else around them. From there it became doctrine.
The fact is, language and how we use it changes so often, rules like this need to be questioned once in a while. If people don’t have a good reason for those rules, or don’t even remember why they were established in the first place, maybe it’s a good sign it’s time to change and move on. So that’s what I did.
The dictionary meaning of an adverb is a word or phrase that modifies the meaning of an adjective, verb, or other adverb (and sometimes whole sentences), expressing manner, place, time, or degree. In other words, just like adjectives color the meaning of a noun, adverbs color the meaning of other words within your sentence. They are an essential building block of the story as far as I’m concerned.
I think the biggest advantage to using them is they cut down on the tendency to be too wordy in an attempt to make your words more visual. For instance, you can say your character smiled sweetly, or you can give a long drawn out description so your readers understand the emotion or motivation behind the smile. I think readers, in many cases, appreciate short and to the point descriptions, especially when it’s interrupting good dialogue and/or action.
Now just as with adjectives, you can go overboard with adverbs. If you can remove it without changing the meaning of your sentence, then do so. Or if you can reword your sentence in a way that eliminates the need for the adverb, but doesn’t require an enormous amount of description, go for it! Otherwise, why worry about your –ly count? Chances are most of your readers will never notice, and those who do are probably writers and editors who have been taught you should only use them sparingly.
Renee Scattergood lives in Australia with her husband, Nathan, and daughter, Taiya. She has always been a fan of fantasy and was inspired to become a story-teller by George Lucas, but didn’t start considering writing down her stories until she reached her late twenties. Now she enjoys writing fantasy. She is currently publishing her monthly Shadow Stalker series, and she has also published a prequel novella to the series called, Demon Hunt. Aside from writing, she loves reading (Fantasy, of course), watching movies with her family, and doing crafts and science experiments with her daughter.
If you wish to learn more about Renee, you can by visiting her site http://reneescattergood.com