I’m a convert to the Stephen King School of Adverb Rejection. When I see too many adverbs, I consider that I am seeing amateurish writing. When I find myself using too many, I know that I’m getting lax and need to step up my own game.
It’s not my way to swallow ‘rules of writing’ without question. Before I reached this conclusion, I asked myself: what’s wrong with adverbs? They’re a part of the language, are they not? Parts of language exist for our use, don’t they? In order: they rarely pay their way, they are an overused part, and not every tool in the drawer is right for every repair.
Let’s examine some sentences.
The impact completely destroyed the Mazda. ‘Completely’ is redundant. If ‘destroyed’ doesn’t sound cataclysmic enough for your purposes, how about: The impact obliterated the Mazda.
She quickly reached into her purse to feel for her wallet. If you want to say that she was in a hurry, try: She darted a hand into her purse to feel for her wallet. Any adverb that can be removed with a better verb choice is a badverb.
Slowly, she said: “But you don’t have to if you don’t want to.” You can fix this with ellipses, which are easy to overdo in lazy narrative but may be necessary and helpful for dialogue: “But you don’t have to…if you don’t want to,” she said. This is a good time to make a key point: dialogue and narrative are not the same. Dialogue is how people talk. Your characters may abuse adverbs in speech; most people do. That’s perfectly fine. What, did I just do it? Excuse me. That’s fine. Better.
A Garden City man was brutally murdered the next night. As opposed to a nice, gentle murder? If it’s a messy one, are you not about to explain what was so messy about it? If you are, do you need to tip the reader one sentence earlier? Police found a Garden City man murdered the next night, with signs of torture and prolonged suffering.
King says, and I concur, that if you examine most of your adverbs, you will find that most do not pay their way. This is an excellent study for writers, because as we examine our slacker efforts, and challenge ourselves to remove badverbs, we can find ways to replace them with more descriptive writing. Some add nothing, some are just laziness, and a few still have their places.
Fewer is better.