Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Use Adverbs With Caution



If Stephen King uttered these words, it must be true.Probably!  He put into one clear statement what many writing books will devote paragraphs or even a chapter to.

Why do those who teach writing basics steer writers away from using too many adverbs? One of the reasons is that it allows the writer to be lazy. Why not use one word to describe what a character is doing instead of showing us what he/she does? I'd much rather be shown than told. Look at the two examples below:

A.  Joanie walked hurriedly.

B.  Joanie's feet flew down the gravel road toward home.

A.  Tom glared angrily at Susannah.

B.  The veins in Tom's forehead stood out and his face appeared redder than Susannah had ever seen it. His eyes never left her and his mouth remained set in a firm line.

The A sentences take the lazy way out while the B sentences show us a whole picture. You can bet that Stephen King uses adverbs sparingly (note:  using the adverb in that previous sentence works fine because I don't want to have a too-lengthy post here and it's modifying an inactive verb) They do have a place at times but it's far too easy to fall into the trap of using them too frequently and instead of showing what happens.

Look at one of your already written stories or essays. Circle or highlight the adverbs. Then ask yourself how many of them would benefit from a rewrite to show rather than tell. Do some rewriting and then read the piece again. I think you'll find that it's far more interesting.  

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