Monday, May 05, 2014

Using Adverbs Wisely

The Blog Ring of Power will return in a week or two, as soon as we can get them scheduled. If you're a science fiction or fantasy writer and are interested in being featured, please contact me. You can be either traditionally published or indie published, but we'd prefer authors who are new to BRoP. It might be best to e-mail me (see the e-mail address in the right-hand panel), since connecting Blogger and Google had the unfortunate side effect of making the comments harder to find. (You can still see them if you click on the right link, but they're all done through Google now.)

In the meantime, I thought I'd discuss the part of speech every author is taught to hate. I write, of course, of the dreaded adverb. We're all taught that using adverbs is a sign of lazy verbs and that we should ruthlessly expunge the adverbs from our writing. But is that always the case? Sometimes an adverb can give nuance to a verb or counter the verb's meaning. The best examples I can think of off the top of my head are instances like "frown gently" or "smile sadly." It's hard to capture the emotions behind this type of body language with a single word.

On the other hand, there are instance where an adverb seems superfluous, but is still used. For instance, one adverb I've been noticing a lot lately is "visibly." It's often used when a character other than the viewpoint character uses nonverbal gestures. For instance, someone might "shrug visibly." Maybe the adverb is meant to indicate that the POV character is watching this happen, but to me as a reader, I already know that and therefore find the adverb distracting. In fact, this adverb inspired this post.

I don't think the entire collection of adverbs needs to be discarded from a writer's vocabulary. I often use them myself, particularly when I'm blogging. But like every other word in a story, they need to earn their place. Does the meaning of the sentence change if the adverb is removed or if another verb is used? Does the adverb tell the reader something he or she should already know? Does the word contribute to the overall style or tone of the story? How many adverbs have been used already? Using a lot of them will give the story a different feel than using few or none.

How do you feel about adverbs? Do you have any pet peeves about them, either as an author or a reader?

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