Monday, December 14, 2015

Avoiding Adverbs by Roseanne Dowell


Writing without adverbs? Then how can we describe people, tone of voice? Some writers think adverbs are the only way to add description to a story.
Wrong – the use and over use of adverbs distracts from your story.  It puts YOU, the AUTHOR into the story.  And we never (one of the few nevers in writing) want the author in the story.
There are better ways to add description.  Let’s take this sentence for example:  Roy walked leisurely down the street.  – Okay. You, the author, just TOLD us how Roy walked – you interfered with the story.   How much better if you would have showed us how Roy walked.
Example: Roy strolled down the street. (Notice how just changing the verb and taking out the adverb shows us how Roy walked.
Roy is not in a hurry - strolled implies leisurely without the author saying so, but it’s still telling. So, let’s take it one step farther. The author can show more.
Roy breathed in the spring air. What a great time of year with the trees budding and the smell of fresh cut grass. Just looking at the sky put him in a good mood.
Now the author hasn’t even told us that Roy strolled. We know Roy’s not in a hurry because he notices everything around him.  People in a hurry don’t take the time to notice the buds on the trees. They wouldn’t stop to look at the sky.  The author has shown us something about Roy besides the fact that he’s not in a hurry.  He loves spring, and he loves nature. Other people wouldn't necessarily notice the buds on the trees, even when they’re not in a hurry. They react in different ways to show us they aren't in a hurry. Maybe they'd lollygag along watching the traffic or kids playing. That shows us something different about them.  People see different things and so should our characters.
Adverbs can never replace strong verbs. As in the above example, strolled is a much stronger verb then walked in showing us how someone went on his way, but showing him works so much better.
Adverbs combined with strong verbs – John ran quickly – are repetitive. We already know John ran, that tells us he’s moving fast, why repeat it?  The adverb has the same meaning as the verb.  By adding the adverb, we weaken the verb and the sentence, and it shows us nothing. 
Avoid the use of adverbs whenever possible.  When you feel tempted to add an adverb, stop and think about what you want the reader to know. Is there another way to say it?  Usually there is. 
Adverbs to describe how someone speaks are also interfering.
Example: “Stop, just stop,” John shouted angrily.
Well, I don’t know about you, but if someone is shouting that usually means he’s angry.
 Why not show us the anger? “Stop! Just stop.” John slammed the cupboard door.
Now that shows us he is angry much better than the adverb angrily? And, we didn’t have to use the tag line he shouted. We can say, he shouted and slammed the cupboard door, but does that reinforce the anger? Not really. The action works better alone.
Now don’t get me wrong – there are places to use adverbs, but the key is to use them sparingly.  Readers want detail, they want to see and hear the story. They don’t want someone to tell them what happened. They want to feel the anger, sadness, happiness, laughter, and tears.  Readers want to feel our character's emotion.  Characters who display emotion are strong characters. And readers remember them. They become real, believable. And if we have believable characters, readers will remember us.
So next time you write, she hurried quickly down the street, STOP!! Reread what you just wrote.  Do you really want to repeat that he was in a hurry?  Hurried already implies he was going quickly.
And next time you write – “I can’t do this anymore,” John said sadly.  Rethink it – is there a better way to show John sad?  “I can’t do this anymore.” John wiped the tears from his eyes. Notice I didn’t say John said as he wiped the tears. You can also eliminate the he said/she said tags and insert action tags that shows us more of what’s happening. By saying John said sadly, we know John is sad – but we don’t know he’s crying. 

We add so much more to the story by eliminating needless adverbs.  We all enjoy reading strong stories, why not write them

1 comment:

Chad said...

Great Article -- thank you for sharing!

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