Infamous Adverbs or To Boldly Go

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Writers are told to avoid adverbs like the plague.  Once we’ve looked up in our Children’s Book Of Knowledge what an adverb is, we are usually struck with panic!  OMG! Almost everything I’ve written is an adverb!  Remember Enid Blyton?  All those “George said, crossly” and “Anne smiled gently?”  Well, turns out we are not really supposed to use those adverbs!  Like a toddler having a tantrum in a posh restaurant, we’re supposed to pretend we haven’t noticed them.

The first advice to writers when editing their own work – strike all your adverbs!  I’ve said it myself – I’m not a fan of description of any sort – there’s not enough time to read a flowery passage about a sunset – I just want to know where the body was when they found it and who died, and how!  I have to admit to getting fed up with all the he ran erratically, she said languidly, he walked elegantly – you get the idea.

And we’re told, use the verb to create the action.  Instead of  ‘she said languidly’ say, ‘she drawled’, ‘she murmured’.  Let your characters wobble, plummet, sneer, grumble, whisper, yell, howl, wail.  It’s better for you, it’s better for the story, it’s better for the reader.

BUT

What about impact?

What about the fact that adverbs have a place in language?

What if they become extinct because we don’t use them carefully? (Thought I’d sneak one in there)

How can Captain Kirk proclaim, “To go boldly …” ?  I mean we’ve already had the split-infinitive people on the phone, now it’s Captain Adverbs? (From the planet Ly!)

So to summarise my obscure and poorly presented argument.  Sometimes we need them.  So just because you been told ‘don’t use them’, doesn’t mean you should NEVER EVER use them.  Sometimes the best verb you can use is an adverb.  Action all the time is exhausting for the reader, and it doesn’t make for a comfortable read.  Because after page upon page of deathless prose, it’s nice occasionally to have a simple, ‘she said crossly’.

2 thoughts on “Infamous Adverbs or To Boldly Go

  1. I couldn’t agree more. Ideas such as ‘don’t use adverbs’ are simply transitory fashions. In most cases, they cater to the can’t-read-anything-longer-than-a-tweet generation. Let’s not turn our creative writing into one tweet after another.

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