Robert Smythe

The Problem With Adverbs

Modifiers of Verbs

It's a fact: many editors hate adverbs. The thinking is that if a verb needs an adverb, then the verb was a poor choice in the first place. For example, instead of saying, "she walked quickly", why not "she ran / hurried / raced / jogged / rushed / hustled / sprinted"?

Modifiers of Said

I grimace when the adverb is used to modify "said". Here are some examples I've run across where the writer used an adverb with "said". Look at the words spoken. Do you really think that adverb was needed?  
"I love you," she said, amorously.
"I'm going to kill you," he said, threateningly.
"I'd like to see if this works," he said, curiously.
"Halleluiah!" she said, ecstatically.
"I wish it weren't so," she said, dejectedly.
"What do you want?" he said, inquiringly.
"Maybe yes, maybe no," he said, matter-of-factly

Did you grimace at any of those, too?

Circle all the –ly words in your manuscript. Can you pick better verbs or more graphic dialogue so as not to need the adverbs?

Special adverbs to avoid

Suddenly ... Beginning writers use this time and again, often five or more times a chapter. Suddenly, the bomb exploded. Well, do bombs ever explode gradually?

Suddenly the phone rang. Probably the author meant that the character was surprised by the sound of the phone. Try, Jason jumped at the sound of the phone

He was suddenly tired. He yawned might do the trick. (Notice that this is an example of the always apt rule Show, don't tell.  "He yawned" is showing. The reader will conclude the the guy was tired without the narrator telling him so.) 

Slightly, briefly, a little

I see the word "slightly" several times a chapter in inexperienced writer's fiction. it's a minimizing word, like briefly, a little, a little bit.

She was slightly angry.

I always wonder if the author worried about his character being too angry, so he chickened out. For drama, though, more is usually better than less. Why not have her angry, or damn angry, or better, since showing is preferable to telling, have her throw a plate against the wall.

Her hair was slightly messy.

If her hair is only slightly messy, what good is it to the plot? If it's messy and she doesn't know it, other characters could be judgemental. If she knows it's messy, she can be embarrassed or distracted. Either way, maximizing allows you to develop characters and add detail to the plot. Minimizing tends to make the condition irrelevant, so why mention it at all?

He felt a little nauseous. 

Why not make him sick to his stomach but doing his best to cope?