I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.
Stephen King said that in his book ON WRITING. He also said this about adverbs.
Spend adverbs sparingly, like they were $100 bills.
He also dubbed them the literary equivalent of dandelions on your lawn.
Most writing gurus will try to get you to see adverbs as the devil. Why? After all, adverbs are an acceptable part of speech. However, most novice writers overuse them, using them when they can find a better verb. Characters “talk loudly” when they can “shout” or “walk clumsily” when they can “stumble.”
Adverbs tend to be redundant with newbie writers too. School bells clang loudly. (Umm…how else does something clang?) Music blares loudly (blaring’s only done at top volume, people) or people whisper quietly (most whispers are quiet).
PS - all these novice mistakes? I know ALL about them. My first project lived in Adverbia and I swear to you when I took many of the unnecessary ones out, my word count dropped at least 5K. Now, I concentrate on finding stronger verbs. Or try to show rather than tell.
So, adverbs as demon grammar spawn? Totally understandable. But here’s the thing. There’s nothing wrong with adverbs. I think we’re so ingrained to writer preaching of “get rid of those adverbs!” and “find a stronger verb!” that we’re reluctant to use them at all.
But even Stephen King has an occasional weed in his lawn.
I use them too. But let me tell ya. I try to make every word count. If I'm going to use an adverb, it's got to do more than just modify my verb. And in the past year, I’ve discovered a different way to use adverbs. Powerfully.
And I just demonstrated it. I don’t know if it’s an intended technique or if it’s just a voice-y thing, but I’ve been noticing a lot of "stand alone adverbs.” And man, is that little adverb placement at the end of a paragraph a powerful punch!
This little adverbial trend may have been around for a while, but Alison Come Lately first noticed it last year when reading THE UNBECOMING OF MARA DYER (Michelle Hodkin).
"It’s just a game, Mara.” She smiled, her teeth looking whiter in the dim light. Rachel and I had been best friends since preschool, and where she was dark and wild, I was pale and cautious. But less so when we were together. She made me feel bold. Usually.
See it? Adverb. On its own. End of paragraph.
Here are a couple other adverb instances from works you may be familiar with.
Like strips of photo-booth pictures or chains of white roses or Mexican loteria cards. Or maybe I’ll wear a great pair of swashbuckling boots and a plumed hat. And I’ll swagger to the stage with a saber on my belt and a heavy pistol in my holster, and I’ll thank my parents for showing me Gone with the Wind when I had the flu in second grade, because it taught me everything I needed to know about hoop skirts.
Mainly that I needed one. And badly. LOLA AND THE BOY NEXT DOOR (Stephanie Perkins)
I know what they think because she whispers their thoughts into my ear. I can hear them. Clearly. Constantly. SKINNY (Donna Cooner)
Todd Waterson’s house was a sprawling, three-level stucco contemporary with Craftsman influences. There were decks and terraces with panoramic views of the bay and the city. The property was secluded and quiet. Very. 11TH HOUR (James Patterson)
(Okay, so VERY is both an adjective and an adverb. But I liked this example and wanted to use it so there. *sticks out tongue*)
Or a favorite among my students. I failed. Epically.
I don't know about you, but I think that teensy adverb placed all by its lonesome can deliver a powerful impact and really bring out the action in your verb.
I’ve not only noticed it in stories but also in my speech. My emails. My friend’s doc comments. Pages we critique over at YA Confidential. And, of course, it’s found its way into my writing. Here's a sample from my boy JD.
Tori’s eyes are huge and I hate this for her, but I can’t take any more of Mom’s shit. She may never be here, but her evil spirit is a ubiquitous (SAT word = ever present) house haunt. I have got to get out of here. Permanently.
Of course, just like anything, moderation is key. Overuse of even this powerful adverbial technique will lessen the impact.
So go ahead. Use those adverbs. Sparingly. And let them give some power to your writing.
SIDE NOTE: Alison hasn’t read Stephen King’s ON WRITING yet. I have it, and believe it or not, it’s next on my TBR. But, man, reading all these Stephen King quotes makes me want to read it RIGHT NOW. And I would kick my current read back to the bedside table, but I’m reading AUDREY, WAIT! and ohmygosh it’s SO GOOD.
Have YOU noticed this adverb thingie (yes, Alison’s formidable brain did just say thingie)? What do YOU think about it? Also, have YOU read On Writing?