Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Are Adverbs the Enemy?

It was only a couple of years ago that I read Stephen King's advice somewhere (paraphrasing, here...), that adverbs should be banished altogether. At first, I didn't think I agreed with him. But the more I paid attention - both to my own prose and to published fiction - I came around to his way of thinking.

I don't know that they should be banished altogether. But I do think they should used incredibly (<---ha!) sparingly. Tightening one's writing should always include examining the overuse of adverbs (and adjectives).

Here's a great Writer's Digest article by William Noble that explains why this is true, and gives clear examples.

I'm sure I'm still guilty of using too many adjectives/adverbs in my writing (I do believe that, at least in women's fiction, writers can get away with them a bit more), but now I'm more aware of the ones I don't need, and I think/hope my writing is better for it!


  1. My poetry prof in college was of the same opinion and I must agree that I have held the same prejudice ever since I saw what eliminating adverbs did to the strength of my writing. In poetry especially, where tightening is the art of it, there is no room for modifiers. It just makes sense to find a stronger word to replace the modified original.

    Of course, in reality, I am all about them until I edit and then I banish them without mercy. I'm like the grim reaper of the adverb world. ;)

  2. I completely agree about poetry - one key characteristic should be brevity, which is why I think poetry is the most challenging 'genre' of all. Every word must count, and all that extra fat has to be trimmed away.

    And something else you said that's spot on -it's recognizing what the trimming will do to a piece of writing - the way it instantly improves it. That recognition is imperative in the process. Because we can't fix something we don't recognize/notice. That's the hardest part for me, as a teacher - trying to get across to my students how vital it is to recognize their own writing weaknesses (which we ALL have) in order to improve the writing.

  3. So much to learn when pursuing a writing endeavor!