One of the first (and quickest) lessons you learn as a writer of fiction is that adverbs are bad. Verbs and nouns are good. Repeat. Adverbs bad. Verbs and nouns good. 🙂
When I went from writing a monthly column in a corporate magazine to writing fiction, my thinking required some adjustment–not because I used adverbs with wild abandon. But because I’ve seen them used often in other works of fiction, (especially those written way back when) including romance.
In corporate writing, there isn’t time for flowery prose or description. You stick to the facts, and if it’s an interview (which most of my columns were) you stick to the story as told by the person you’re interviewing.
In that sense, my magazine writing toughened me up for the battle ahead–the one to rid my fictional writing of adverbs. Although I LOVE English and diagramming sentences, I agree that adverbs weaken the best of prose or a good book. And when you’re searching for an agent, editor or readers, that’s unacceptable.
The reader shouldn’t have to see your character “walk briskly” or hear them “yell loudly.” Allow them stride and scream their way onto the page. Instead of saying, “The cat ran quickly up the tree.” try writing, “The cat scurried up the tree.”
Simple? Right? Mmm …maybe not. It seems the more creative we try to be, the harder it gets to leave those ugly adverbs at bay.
You might say there are best-selling authors who use adverbs all the time. And I would agree. However, I would also suggest waiting until you’re pulling in a six-figure advance before flexing those muscles.
Stephen King is a great example of a best-selling novelist who believes in the no adverbs rule.
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day . . . fifty the day after that . . . and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s–GASP!!–too late.”
(Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. Scribner, 2000)
As writers of fiction, we must make a conscious effort to do away with words that lessen the impact of our stories. Adverbs must be banished from our WIPS, and future stories. They must be plucked from our front lawns.
Slay all adverbs!
For courage and guidance, I offer the Adverb Slayer’s Creed, composed by yours truly. (Yes, the craziness exists in all forms**)
Recite the creed each time you put pen to paper or finger to key. Memorize it if you must. It will strengthen your craft and your resolve as a writer.
THE ADVERB SLAYER’S CREED
You are of the Old Ones, revered and worshipped by those who dare to bleed at their typewriter and on their keyboard. You seek refuge in authors still too unsure to express themselves through the written word, without the lore of “ly.”
You plot to control emotions, and time within works in progress with little regard to the strength of verbs and nouns.
Demonic excuses for prose, you lurk behind dialog tags, lessening their usefulness and potency, which brings clumsiness to each line, and sloppiness to each paragraph.
Said, Scribes Mark Twain and Stephen King masters of prose before us, you serve no purpose. Leave the spirited verb to stand on its own. And with the aid of our trusted noun, each page will resonate with all who read them.
Be gone, wicked word of weakened prose …
Be gone, cruel captor of all creative thoughts …
I (Fill in your name), am the Adverb Slayer and I write better without you!
** I’ve play the game Mortal Kombat a little too often and I love History, in particular the 18th century. However, it would have been quite difficult to write with a quill and by candlelight. But the gowns were beautiful.