Writing About Writing: The Sneakiness of the Adverb

As you may or may not know from the other pages on Ilicic Days, I am developing a short story (or two) and world building for what I hope will become a successful series of fantasy novels. This is on top of writing for Ilicic Days, running and playing LARP events, crafting like a maniac to support my crochet/cross-stitch habit, and working full-time. Recently, I discovered my nemesis, and it’s not a lack of sleep or a caffeine addiction:

It’s adverbs. The title gave that away a bit, didn’t it? Lack of points for suspense.

I say I discovered them, but it was my mother who pointed them out to me, lurking in my literary shadow. She’s very clever, my mum. Anywho, she pointed out the quantity of adverbs in a piece I wrote some time ago, and again in my review of The Girl in the Marshes.

The problem is, I can’t stop. My name is Holly, and I am an adverb addict. I’m absolutely, positively, surely and most certainly in love with an adverb here, there, and sort of everywhere. I don’t even realise I’m doing it half the time, and here’s the thing…

Adverbs, when used sparingly, can vamp up your writing, speed up that scene and push your plot onwards to the next big thing. Adverbs used all the time, however, completely and utterly detract from what you’re trying to show your readers. The adverb itself modifies verbs and nouns in the sentence, but it also modifies the narrative voice, losing any impact it might once have had.

Adverbs are frequent in our speech, and that’s fine for the most part. The way people write description tends to be different from the patterns used in speech, because so much of our verbal communication is assisted by expression and gesture. Well, unless you’re writing speech, of course, and then it’s always preferable to say what your characters are saying out loud so you can gauge whether it sounds convincing or if it is, in fact, a load of trite tripe.

I digress.

Adverbs in our writing is, indeed, lazy. It invites the writer to tell the reader something, rather than show them and, when you think about it, the whole point of descriptive prose is to show the reader the bones of what is happening, and what colour it’s happening in, so their mind can do the rest.

Look at this example:

The grenade detonated, killing everyone in a ten foot radius.

The grenade detonated loudly, killing everyone in a ten foot radius.

The adverb in this context is unnecessary. It is a well established fact that things which explode make a rather big noise. So why feel the need to include it? It ruins the impact and suggests that all those fictional people you killed died in vain for want of better writing.

I have now been on adverb alert for nearly a week, and I can see just how pervasive these critters are. They are everywhere, sneaking about the place, invading sentences at will, and I’m starting to think they have a life of their own. Either that, or I’m a very lazy writer. It is my pledge at this current time in my life to comb my work, find the adverb tangles, and work them out with a dollop of good quality editing conditioner.

Gosh, what an appalling metaphor, perhaps I’d better stick to the adverbs.

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