A Writer's Journey

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

Maya Angelou

Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.

Victor Hugo

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Writing Wednesday: Adverbs

I can't speak for all writers, but personally, I'm quite the wordy gal. I tend to over-describe, over-fluff, and add words that don't add any content or meaning to the story other than the fact that they're pretty and give better visuals. I didn't realize this at first, of course, being a new writer and all, and my first unfinished manuscript is a true testament to that. Lots of fluff. Content, not so much.

One of the reasons for this is my love of adverbs. And when I say love, that's an understatement. I used to stick them everywhere, usually after a dialogue tag to "enhance" what the speaking character is feeling/doing/saying/etc. It wasn't until I had gotten some awesomesauce CP's that I saw the downfall to an overage of adverbs.

Let's back up for a second. What IS an adverb, exactly? Well lucky for you, I just happened to have an example:

Rule 1.
Generally, if a word answers the question how, it is an adverb. If it can have an -ly added to it, place it there.

She thinks slow/slowly.
She thinks how? slowly.

She is a slow/slowly thinker.
Slow does not answer how, so no -ly is attached. Slow is an adjective here.

She thinks fast/fastly.
Fast answers the question how, so it is an adverb. But fast never has an -ly attached to it.

We performed bad/badly.
Badly describes how we performed.

Example above, as well as other examples, can be found here.

It wasn't until I had someone read the chapters of my current WIP that I realized WHY the overage of adverbs can actually HURT the story, rather than enhance it. The reader's mind is systematically programmed so that we fill in the blanks to things that aren't there and provide the missing pieces to an otherwise unfinished puzzle.

It's called imagination.

If we deprive the reader of this chance to help mold in their mind what's going on in the story, what the characters are saying, how they're reacting to something or someone, and if everything described is showing them the HOW, it can cause their interest to wane because everything is already being given to them instead of allowing them to engage with the story on their own. Using too many of my beloved adverbs takes away from the story because the reader may subconsciously focus on these minute details instead of focusing on the story and losing themselves in the actual reading.

I have to admit, I was rather defensive at first when my CP Lori pointed out the majority of my beloved adverbs when she first started reading my chapters. But then I went back to all my favorite books and pored through them to kind of educate myself on what she was talking about and you know what? She was absolutely right. I never paid any attention to the adverbs or lack thereof when I was actually reading my favorite books, but that was because they were used only to enhance the story and never to overpower it. I was engaged in the STORY itself, and going over to read them from a writer's POV definitely helped me to understand some of the things that I still need to learn in my own writing process.

Have any of you ever had the same problem with overusing adverbs? Do you still do it? Why or why not?


  1. The only reason I focus on adverbs is b/c I used to abuse them as well XD I still sometimes do without realizing it!

    Love this post, Ani! Especially the part about the mind filling in the blanks. It's so true. A writer has only to describe a few choice details and the reader's imagination will fill in the rest.

  2. Great post! I'm a recovering adverb addict too! I know exactly what you mean about loving to describe things. That's me. I just describe describe describe when I should be focusing on the story.

    But yes, as is the case with many things, less is more. :)

  3. It's so true. I noticed when I read my first draft out loud to my kids that I always got tripped up on the adverbs. And I love what you said about filling in the blanks. I always forget that!

  4. SO glad I wasn't alone in my adverb-love!! LOL I still sometimes like to slip them in when I can, but now I'm consciously aware of them and the frequency of use. (or else Lori will catch them anyway! LOL)

  5. This is definitely the best post I've read on why to not use adverbs. Thank you! I've always known to take them out and now I actually know why, lol.

  6. Ani -- So funny you should be talking about adverbs today because I was posting about them on my blog as well. Saw your Tweet and had to click to read. You cover this a lot better than I do (it was just one section for me), so I'm going to link to your post! :-)

  7. @Juliana OMG. *blushes* Thanks!! I didn't think I was an adverb addict, until other people started pointing them out to me. And even then I didn't understand why they were so bad. LOL Now I cringe when I read back older WIPs that looked like they threw up adverbs. Bahahaha! :D

  8. @SP Well, you know what they say...great minds think alike! Bahahahaha! And you're too kind --thanks for the post link! <3