how to break the rules well · writing problems

A little adverb goes longly

I’m not as against adverbs as Stephen King acolytes are. Adverbs are only adjectives with different grammatical placement. Like all descriptive words, there’s a time and a place.

With every adverb, try the sentence without it and see if the sentence’s meaning survives. Every book has some adverbs, but good books have choice ones. (Good books have choice words in general.)

The first line of a recent manuscript I saw read like this:

She mounted the hill quietly, placing each foot carefully.

Did you shudder too?

The author doesn’t need both those adverbs — in fact, they might not need half the sentence. Consider:

She mounted the hill quietly.

Carefully, she mounted the hill.

She mounted the hill, placing each foot with care.

These all communicate the same meaning. The last one doesn’t have any adverbs. You can even condense the thought into one verb:

She slipped up the hill and peeked down into the enemy encampment…

Adverbs are okay if and only if they’re strong, sparse, and necessary.

King fans, take note: I used two adverbs in this post: only and even. Still, too, and yet are other common ones. You’d be hard-pressed to fully erase essential adverbs like these from your book.

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