All writers have a process that allows them to create. However, the art of "Writing" is often mistaken for that "Process." Hopefully this blog explains the difference, and inspires people to develop their crafts, become writers, or just keep on writing.

Friday, June 2, 2023

In Defense of Adverbs

There are a lot of ways to get a group of writers arguing. Discuss the works of Hunter S. Thompson. Debate the appropriate age to start teaching poetry techniques. And, of course, discussing whether the book or the movie was better regarding just about anything is bound to mix it up a little. But if you really want the words to fly and the blood pressure to rise, discuss adverbs.

So simple, right? An adverb - a word that modifies a verb. We use them all the time, but with effective writing, it suddenly becomes a point of contention. There is the camp that scorns any kind of adverb - the verb should do the heavy lifting, and the rest of the narrative should fill in the blanks. Then there are those who treat the modifier just like an adjective or any other descriptor - it is used to enhance the reader's experience, full stop. Of course, I have to post my opinion on this as well.

At some point or another, I have been in both camps, and they make good points. However, over the years I have found my own territory, and I try to stay within those boundaries. Everyone does wander outside their own space and I am guilty of that as well, but often this is a case of falling into old habits rather than trying new things. In the end, my beliefs stay the same, and here's what they are regarding this grand controversy.

Think about a person running down the street. We all have our own image of this, and chances are they're very similar. Now, if we write this scene, a natural adverb comes to mind to describe how the person is running: quickly (or any synonym). If we use this, it enhances the description of our person running down the street. They are now quickly running down the street. More descriptive, right?

Or is it?

Go back to that image of the running person. Was there any question in your mind that the person ran quickly? Does the typical running person go at any other pace than quickly? This is where adverbs show their weakness, by modifying a verb but not really adding anything to the discussion. A person running quickly is basically the same as a person running, and we can ignore the adverb. "Quickly" is a precious waste of time and it weighs down the narrative with false energy.

Now, that being said, there are other adverbs that bring something extra to the table. Is the person running haphazardly? Clumsily? Half-heartedly? Those adverbs all bring a new dimension to the discussion, because they are not a part of the standard person-running-down-the-street image. Those adverbs do some lifting on their own, creating something new as they modify the verb.

The takeaway? If you insist on using adverbs, make sure they aren't just repeating or recycling the verb's action. A good adverb enhances the action without repeating the action. If your adverb doesn't follow that policy, it can probably be dropped.

Now, discuss amongst yourselves.        


  1. What would you say to "running elliptically"?

    1. Good question. Personally, I think "running elliptically" creates a very defined, specific image of the person's running, so I would use it. However, I would make sure it matched the tone and feel of the narrative voice.