Monday, April 26, 2010

Anders on the Evil Adverb

Charlie Jane Anders of io9 blogs about that most dreaded part of speech -- the adverb. Excerpts:
Aspiring science-fiction authors receive one piece of advice above all others: Forsake the adverb, the killer of prose. It's terribly, awfully, horrendously important. But why?

Really, adverbs aren't bad in themselves. They're a part of speech, fundamentally no different than any other. Basically, an adverb modifies a verb or adjective to tell you how someone did something. The main problem is, unfortunately, people tend to overuse adverbs. And they're the part of speech most likely to clutter your sentence pointlessly.

So really, the advice should be: "Use adverbs sparingly. And don't use any unnecessary words at all."
Read the whole thing. Anders goes on to list five ways in which an overload of adverbs can weigh down your writing and notes how they insidiously (shoot) silently (darn) subtly (come on) ... er, how they can mess up things without you even noticing. Her example? This sentence: "Troy spun around, grabbing for the gun, but it was already firmly in Erek's hand with the safety off." See if you can ferret out its manifold problems.

(Picture: CC 2008 by
L. Marie; Hat Tip: Writing, Clear and Simple)


Scattercat said...

I, personally, have always resented the blanket ban approach and sought, instead, to keep their use restrained but lively.

(F'r instance, in your sample sentence, the "firmly" is the only part I'd keep, because it helps set the tone of Troy's helpless blundering. The one word shows a whole action set of Troy grasping, tugging, finding immobile...)

Loren Eaton said...

I don't mind stripping most adverbs out, although I don't want to end up sounding like Hemmingway. I mean, he's great and all, but he didn't exactly write genre fiction, you know?

The ban that annoys me the most is quashing any verb in dialogue other than "said." Gets old really fast.