Adverbs Can Kill Your Writing… Literally


In addition to my own writing, I have had the privilege and pleasure of editing several works in the past few years. Editing provides me the opportunity to educate new writers who aspire to publish quality work. It also allows me to stay sharp in my own writing. Many of my clients have excellent stories. They lack, however, the proper techniques to make their words, plots and ideas leap of the page. I see many areas where improvement is possible. In past blog posts, we have discussed dialogue, plotting and telegraphing versus foreshadowing to enhance your plots. Today, I write about one more discipline.

One flaw I see in many new writers’ work is the overuse of the adverb.

Do not misunderstand. Adverbs have their place. They must be used judiciously, especially when writing fiction. I have used two in the last sentence, back-to-back.

All authors must practice their craft, just as a major league hitter must practice hitting and fielding. We must write every day. If you can’t write every day, write as often as you can. Practice your word choice. Practice picking the perfect word rather than adding on an adverb to a lackluster verb or adjective.

In fiction, a plethora of adverbs kills your writing. It is the sign of an amateur. However, it is an easy fix with the use of a good thesaurus. I use the Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus. It is a thick, complete, dog-eared reference when I need to locate the right word.

Adverbs make for wordiness. Often, when you have used an adverb or two to describe what a character is doing, you can substitute a more concise verb or descriptor. The English language is chockful of words designed to describe an action or a thought.

Here are several examples I have seen in my editing experience.

The spy walked quickly to the door. Instead try: Walter, the spook, marched to the exit.

“You are making me not want to do that,” Katie said sullenly. Instead try: “You are making me not want to do that,” Katie brooded.

The sun descended slowly toward the tree line. Darkness gradually over took the day.  Instead, you might try:

The golden ball in the sky hung like a dying ornament, inching toward the treetops as if being let out on an invisible string. Dusk had entrenched itself on the day, a harbinger of the gloom about to curtain the city.

If you need assistance with your writing, please contact me through this website…seriously. ©David Perry 2016

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