Adverb use?

Writing plans for 2018?

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Oct 14, 2015
Houston, TX
I recently got some feedback on a manuscript I'm working on, and a word analysis was included with the feedback. Along with the word analysis came a suggestion that I expunge all adverbs from my manuscript (if possible). And the comment was paired with a quip about Stephen King not liking adverbs.

I guess my question is this: how much adverb usage is too much? if I use adverbs, is an agent going to relegate my manuscript to the "naughty pile"?

I'm far from a perfect writer, so I'm trying to take every bit of feedback I get seriously. But I'd also like to hear what everyone on the colony thinks. Do you use adverbs? Am I a naughty writer for employing them enough to have someone mention it? Do you feel that the use of adverbs detracts from the quality of the work?
Not exactly an expert, but I do look at every adverb in my writing and see if I can eliminate it by showing more. Most of the time I can--most of the time I've used an adverb out of habit or because I was too eager to get to the next part of the story to take the time to show, rather than tell. I have always been happier with a piece of writing for having removed an adverb. But sometimes an adverb is the right word--only you can decide.

If someone has noticed your adverbs, they probably need to be addressed. You don't want anything to come between your reader and the story, and excessive adverbs can do that.
It's in the way they're used. Most people who overuse them tack them on as unneccesary parts of dialogue tags.

"Get out of here!" she shouted angrily.

For one thing, it's not needed to tell the reader she was angry. The context of someone shouting that sentence at another person would be enough, if shown correctly. You don't even need the word shouted if you're setting up the context and using the exclamation point (although you need to be careful not to overdo those, too.).

I don't think you need to necessarily get rid of all adverbs in a manuscript, but rather look at each one in the same light. Is there a better way to help that verb? Do you really need to help that verb? In helping that verb, are you telling instead of showing?

If you do this, you'll probably eliminate most of them. The ones that do stay will be there for the reason they're intended, not because they give the overall impression of lazy writing, or tell instead of show.

They can serve a purpose, and not all of them end in ly. The frequency adverbs include always, often, sometimes, seldom, and never. Again, look at each one to determine if it's needed in that context, or if you're using it to replace a chance to show something to your reader instead.

Hope this helps. :)
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Adverb use is problematic. It's easy to use them when in the throes of writing, for you're there in the scene imagining what's happening and describing the action in what you hope is a witty and enthralling way. The trouble is, this can come across as over-controlling pedantry. Readers like doing some of the work themselves, and quickly start to resent being told how the characters feel and talk.

You alluded to Stephen King's observation, that 'The road to hell is paved with adverbs,' which indicates the torment but doesn't offer a solution. I rather like Kingsley Amis' advice: 'If you're using an adverb you have got the verb wrong' which is at least helpful.

Having said that, the world's most successful author, the first to become a billionaire from her writing, JK Rowling is guilty of overusing adverbs. She also relies on clichės too much.

Deathly adverbs - The Boston Globe

Oh, Those Lovely Adverbs
All words are lovely. It's their order that makes them more or less so.

People haul out that quote from Stephen King all the time. I imagine it's mostly true. :)

I've also always heard, "Show don't tell." I was thinking about this a while ago and it occurred to me that sometimes telling is exactly what you need. Some of my favorite authors tell. Heinlein tells. All sci-fi and fantasy authors tell. Then I considered what they tell. They give information which isn't already part of our assumed common reservoir of knowledge. They tell when they have to and they do so in a manner which is entertaining.

Adverbs are emotionally evocative words which often have a nice cadence. So... here's what I think... cuz there's no one stopping me from doing so...

Adverbs are used for description. Yes, active verbs are often better for description. But active verbs in a description lend it importance, give it focus, and add length. It can change pacing. Sometimes, you just want to say something is lovely. So, I imagine it's about balance.
I agree re first draft- just need to get words out, not be too bothered about whether they're all valid. Second drafts are the killing fields. Very satisfying.
Adverbs have their place as another tool in the writer’s arsenal, but must be used with care. The fact that someone has flagged them up suggests there could be an issue. The problem most people have with adverbs is that they can be indicative of lazy writing and so it is always worth checking to see if they are really needed.

Have a look at how and where you are using them? Is it primarily in dialogue? If so the advice @Carol Rose gives above is worth following.

In other cases are you using them to strengthen a weak verb? If so perhaps use a stronger verb instead.

Maybe there is some other way of conveying your meaning such as the use of action.

But in some cases an adverb will be the best way to express what you want to say. In which case let them stay.
Having said that, the world's most successful author, the first to become a billionaire from her writing, JK Rowling is guilty of overusing adverbs. She also relies on clichės too much.
It was reading Potter that forever scarred my brain with a passionate hatred for adverbs. Good god, some of the writing in those books was a crime against nature!

I'm interested to see people admitting they find themselves overusing 'just' and 'very'. I cannot imagine how this happens, to be quite honest. Are you two writing very particular fiction, into which these nasty bleeders more easily slip?
I'm not guilty of 'very', but I am definitely guilty if I don't watch it, of overusing 'just'.

It's just so easy...typing while speaking aloud, because it comes so naturally in real life thinking aloud.

See what I did there.


But it's the least of my worries, writing-wise. Nothing that the pruning shears won't fix.

dont panic.jpg
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Writing plans for 2018?

Publish or wait?