You’ve probably heard this dozens of times. But it’s worth repeating: most editors dislike a lot of adverbs in creative writing. You’ve probably also heard the horror stories of the poor victims that showed up to the editors office and were told: “I need you to remove around 100 adverbs. I would recommend either completely changing the structure of the scene or adding a good strong verb instead.”
That is scary to me! I hope when I finally get around to having an actual editor that I won’t have the worry of extra adverbs on my plate. And so that is my primary focus in my writing right now.
But let’s ask the important question first: “Why do I have to cut out my adverbs anyway?”
Why You Need to Chop Adverbs…
Because it can turn the reader off by being repetitive or excess. It really can do that. Have you ever read a book that was just so…*yawn* worthy? I’m not just talking about boring. I’m talking about over-the-top descriptions.
Jill and Jackson rushed quickly about the house.
Let’s take a look at this. Jill and Jackson rushing around is fine. It gives you a sense of the urgency of whatever is going on in the scene. So why inclusion of the adverb- quickly? That just distracts the reader. You should always stay away from extra/excess/unnecessary modifiers and descriptions. In the above example, I just restated the verb using an adverb. Instead, I ought to have just stuck with my strong verb-rushed. The next example is a sample taken from the scene of one of my books- before I removed as many adverbs as I could.
A short grizzly looking man with sinister eyes and a foul expression asks.
The tall man he addresses looks annoyed.
“Vice President Cain, how many times do I need to tell you I am President Rohn?”
Cain trembles slightly at the tall man’s obvious annoyance.
“I apologize, President Rohn. I am simply wondering what you plan to do about the Christian uprising that’s been occurring. It’s all over the place! Just yesterday we had to kill an old man who was making a fuss about repenting because the kingdom of God…”
“Stop! I know all this! Can’t your men even keep one old man from making a racket? I tell you to keep all the Christians in the city from proclaiming that garbage and you just allow him to do it until you must kill him? In front of all those people, too?”
“He won’t be spreading his religion any longer.”
The vice mutters in an injured tone.
“Cain, we must find the root of this rebellion and terminate it. Send someone to find the source. Do whatever you must do to end the resistance! Ever since that Paul Liberty had to defy me!”
“Paul Liberty? Isn’t that the man who refused to conform to our laws and bow the knee to you? He was a troublemaker!”
“Yes, that’s him! I never could understand him. He was offered every luxury imaginable and he chose death.”
“How irrational, Sir.”
“I think I have just the man to find the source for you.”
“He’s a ruthless man who will do anything for money. He fits into our society. He’s the same man that killed Paul Liberty, I believe. He’s a conformist, and will do whatever is best for his own welfare.”
A sly grin comes onto President Rohn’s face as his vice describes the man.
The president inquires.
You only see four ‘ly’ adverbs in this exchange. It’s been a while since I’ve actually looked at the sentence structure of this for a while. I am not sure if I should remove the adverbs I have there. I would say yes, because it seems that they’re unnecessary.
2. We need to focus on displaying what we’re trying to display. I write a whole lot in first person perspective. I have a big problem. I’m not so great at showing the reader what I want to show them- so I end up telling them instead. Adverbs can really be a cheap way to go. Instead of going all out…I can get away with some easy navigation.
The man leered at me threateningly pointing his gun at my head. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on end…In a flash I managed to tie him up rather skillfully.
How could we have prevented telling this? I mean we want the reader to get involved in the heat of the scene. So we want to show them what happened, not tell them.
The example fixed:
The man leered at me (threateningly is removed, because it’s obvious he was threatening the girl- he was pointing a gun at her head after all!) pointing his gun at my head. I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on end… (In a flash removed) I managed to tie him up (I dumped skillfully as well, because it’s falling into telling them how. I stuck with the good strong verb.).
So that’s not near all the reasons I thought of…but I would recommend checking out Emily Tjaden’s post on cutting adverbs: http://www.thisincandescentlife.com/2015/05/9-reasons-to-cut-adverbs-from-your-writing/
Here’s another post I like on the same topic as mine and Emily’s: http://writetodone.com/shoot-adverbs/
Yet another post on the (same) topic: https://www.writingforward.com/writing-tips/writing-tips-abolish-adverbs
Another post that I think is good tells about HOW to get rid of your adverbs: http://www.quickanddirtytips.com/education/grammar/how-to-eliminate-adverbs
Please don’t ‘shoot’ me when you notice that I use adverbs a lot in my posts (you might even find occurrences in THIS post! 🙂 ). I don’t have the time to sit editing my blog posts like that, but when it comes to writing—I think we can agree it’s way more important to be polished.
What are YOUR thoughts on cutting adverbs?
Do you tend to use adverbs a lot?
What is your stance on modifiers in general?
If you were to revisit a writing draft you wrote from long ago, would you find more adverbs or less?