A huge part of being a powerful writer is word choice. I’ve written about 6 specific words that should be avoided, but today I’m going to talk about a part of speech that should be limited.
School House Rock teaches kids “Lolly, lolly, lolly get your adverb’s here.” But writers shouldn’t be too quick to heed this advice. Using too many adverbs is a sign of a weak writer and a huge turn off to editors (and readers).
Using an adverb instead of a verb that more precisely expresses what you are trying to say makes your novel wordy. For many editors, it also suggests that you do not know or do not care to find a better word.
Luckily, limiting adverbs is usually as simple as deleting the offending word or replacing it with a more powerful verb. And it’s certainly not necessary to cut out every single adverb. It’s just important to limit your use of them.
Make the ones you do use count.
And root out any undesirable adverbs.
How to Root Out Undesirable Adverbs
Common Places to Look for Adverbs
Adverbs are scattered throughout narration. Some of editors’ least favorite adverbs are found in dialogue tags. Be sure to avoid those at all costs. The easiest way to find most adverbs is to search your document for “ly.” If you write by hand or can’t do a search of your document, removing adverbs should be done during the final stages of self-editing, so you can remind yourself to look for them as you read through your novel word for word.
Just Delete the Adverb
When you find an adverb, first decide if it can be deleted without further action. Often times it can be. This is especially true with adverbs found in dialogue tags.
Many writers debate whether or not said is dead. My education has taught me that it is well and alive. At least, it should be. Instead of writing said aggressively many writer’s might be tempted to to write growled or shouted or menaced. Many writers may think this is a good idea. However, the best option is to say said and nothing else.
If deleting the adverb doesn’t fully capture the intended meaning, it is time to pick a better verb.
Replace Adverbs with Better Verbs
If you can’t delete the adverb, you can replace it with a better verb. Instead of saying really happy you can say ecstatic or euphoric or overjoyed. Instead of walked slowly you can say waddled or shuffled or lumbered.
Not only is replacing the adverb with a better verb a less wordy option, it also enables you to pick a word with more meaning. It allows you to more precisely describe what you are trying to say. This adds depth and power to your writing. It also shows editors and readers that you are willing to put forth effort to find the best word possible.
Use Description to Replace Adverbs
Although description can make sentences wordier, they can be a powerful literary device as long as they are not overused. When used with care, description gives the novel deeper meaning. In turn, it’s use finds purpose and reason.
For example, description can improve the sentence “He stared hungrily at the stack of pancakes.” This sentence could become “He stared at the stack of pancakes with a hunger that rivaled his skinny body and gaunt face.” Or “He stared at the stack of pancakes with the hunger of a teenage boy who never said no to a food eating contest.”
Although both of these sentences are wordier than “He stared hungrily at the stack of pancakes.” they offer so much more meaning. And they drastically change the meaning of the story. In the first example, we get a sense that this boy, for whatever reason, is malnourished. In the second sentence, we can tell that the boy is well accustomed to food and has the means and privilege to over-eat if it means winning a contest. The description in these two sentences paints a picture of two boys that are polar opposites.
Use Metaphor to Replace Adverbs
Similarly, metaphor can be used to enhance the meaning of a novel. Consider the same original sentence. “He stared hungrily at the stack of pancakes.” Now we add a metaphor, “He stared at the stack of pancakes like a lioness stares at her prey after a long day of hunting.” This sentence is certainly wordier than the original, but it tells us much more. Not only is this boy hungry, but like the lioness deserves a meal after the exhaustion of a long hunt, we can infer that this boy has worked hard and deserves the stack of pancakes.
Instead of using an adverb, description and metaphor go a long way in giving your novel deeper meaning and originality.
Are you ready to choose wisely your use of adverbs?