There are a lot of authors insisting there’s a difference between bad and good adverbs, and they cite authors who use such adverbs, but does a difference exist?
In my opinion, not often, and there are a lot of authors who share such an opinion.
Once upon a time, my early (and failed) blogs were full of adverbs, and it’s no wonder my writing skills were never given serious consideration from anyone.
Sure, there are bestselling authors who use adverbs often in their works, but once you reach a certain level of success, you can break some rules.
J.K. Rowling used adverbs throughout the Harry Potter Series, but she reached a threshold where it didn’t matter if she wrote in omniscient points of view, used adverbs, wrote a 287,000-word novel if the book said Harry Potter, people were buying.
What if Rowling decided to write another Harry Potter Series depicting Harry’s time as an Auror at the Ministry of Magic?
About one-million souls on this Earth just pre-ordered a book.
But for the relative unknown?
It’s best to avoid adverbs at all costs.
Adverbs contribute to lazy writing.
They tell and don’t show.
If someone does something angrily or states something slyly, we’re not getting much other than reading the line a second time in the way a word was spoken or an action was performed.
Again, if Savannah narrows her eyes and throws her hands in the air, I don’t need to state Savannah said something ‘wildly,’ her actions cue the reader.
And that’s what makes adverbs so self-destructive to a work.
If you’re an author who tells rather than shows, your readership will be quite bleak. Again, if you hit bestseller status, feel free to ignore this advice as it’s a different ballgame, a different playing venue, a different league.
It’s like being an NFL receiver who drops a pass in the preseason but has been a number one receiver for three seasons as opposed to a fourth-string receiver trying to make a roster dropping a pass.
The top receiver stays, the receiver trying to make the team goes.
Adverbs are poor practice habits.
You CAN use Adverbs
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a time and place to use adverbs.
For one, if you have a character who speaks with adverbs, that’s a plus, since that character’s voice is recognized. You wouldn’t even need to use a dialogue tag. The use of adverbs cues the reader on who’s talking.
It’s like a cliché, which is also lazy and uncreative, but if a character speaks in clichés, it’s a plus.
But if you’re putting ‘ly’ after every dialogue tag, the result is zero action and at times, reader confusion.
Mix adverbs in but don’t overdo them.
What I mean is to sprinkle such words in with the other 60,000+ words you’ve written in your final draft for a novel. Let them blend in, but don’t allow them to become a focal point of your writing.
Use in First Drafts
First drafts are nothing more than an extended brainstorming/prewriting activity and it’s great to use adverbs in a first draft.
Because in a first draft, your goal is to get the story down. Sure, you can be careful, but write the way you would on a normal basis.
If using adverbs comes across as normal in such situations, by all means use them and use them often.
But, make sure you find each and decide, even if you take a few minutes to mull, whether there is a better way to describe the character’s action.
If someone sprinted quickly, you can just say ‘sprinted,’ or use a term like ‘darted,’ ‘sped,’ or another synonym.
Do this for each, even if the character says something eagerly. Is there a better way to show a character is eager? How about this? Lira perked up. “Can you show me?” Perked up was the cue.
That’s a lot better than this: “Can you show me?” Lira said eagerly.
The reader doesn’t picture the action; they’re being told things that can be shown through such action.
And again, I’d go with the second line if I’m writing a first or even a skeleton draft, but when I revise, I’ll replace eagerly with action that shows Lira’s eagerness.
Get to Work
If your first draft is finished, go ahead and use the ‘Find’ tab at the top of your Word doc. It’ll be located on the top right. Type in the letters ‘ly,’ followed by a space.
Find each adverb; this will take a few hours so break it down into subtasks if able.
Soon, you’ll find and destroy each unneeded adverb while keeping the use of such adverbs low. I recommend one in every two-hundred or so words should be an adverb.
Don’t let your writing stand out with so many lazy adverbs. Show action, allow the reader to experience such action, and your awesome writing skills will be noticed by not being noticed, which allows the story to stand out, after all.