Happy Canadian Thanksgiving, everyone! I’m sending you all the warmest and most heartfelt of wishes on this beautiful autumn day in Gatineau. Although I don’t usually go big here on Thanksgiving, keeping things simple and small with just our little gang of four, I do make sure we take the time to think about and share all the things we’re most thankful for.
So for today’s post, on this turkey-licious day of giving thanks, I’d like to extend some love and gratitude for something I feel doesn’t get nearly as much props it deserves: Adverbs.
I just heard a few gasps in the audience. Shocker, right? Brigitte likes adverbs? Who would’ve guessed!
A bit like climate change, these beautiful words have regrettably found themselves subject to debate. We can scientifically prove adverbs exist but due to some outlandish radicalization by certain experts, writers are now being pressured to ignore this major word group altogether. But why such foolishness?
“It’s a lazy form of writing,” some will say. “Adverbs are terribly inefficient!”
“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” — Stephen King
That’s right. Even The King poo-poos the almighty adverb, comparing them to weeds: Leave even one and your whole yard will be overtaken.
This quote of his has been floating around the internet for quite some time. I never paid much heed to it until one day when I found myself on Scribophile. There I was, happily reading some feedback on my novel, when I came upon one particular critique that left me straight up shook.
“Great story,” was the gist of this person’s overall opinion. “Just a few errors to correct. If you haven’t yet, read Stephen King: On Writing.”
I’d read it already but was curious as to why this gentleman was bringing it up. As I skimmed through his edits, I realized with horror what he meant by ‘errors’. He had taken the time to meticulously strike through every adverb in my text as though they were spelling errors. As though they were mistakes. As though they had crept into my text completely by accident! This fellow marked each and every one of them as wrong, including just one word to explain my gaffe: Adverb.
I was aghast.
It was then that I realized Stephen King had done a great disservice to the writing community. As a role model to many authors, any advice he gives will inevitably be taken seriously. Very seriously. The moment he admonished the use of adverbs was the moment he created a herd of linguistically stifled extremists who now go around glopping white-out over every adverb in the bloody dictionary. Way to go, King. Way to go.
I would argue that J.K. Rowling, who is more successful than King in terms of book sales (fact), uses adverbs all the time. I can flip through the Harry Potter series and find at least one adverb on almost every page. Her writing is the furthest thing from lazy and inefficient. It’s just a different style than his.
Now, I don’t mean any disrespect to Stephen King. Truly. I love his books. I believe he’s wrong about adverbs, but I would perhaps amend his quote to this:
“I believe the road to hell is paved with misused adverbs.” — Brigitte Kirady
Seriously and truthfully, there really is undoubtedly a totally wrong approach to correctly using adverbs. See what I did there?
So, what is the correct way to use an adverb?
- Less is more. Use these precious words sparingly, especially in a novel. As you just saw, adverb overuse will be the death of you. In my novel, I try to keep the adverbs to one, max two per page.
- Avoid pairing adverbs with strong verbs. He shouted brutally. She demanded impetuously. Mark banged powerfully on the door. Mary sped quickly away. The adverbs here are overkill. When the verb paints a strong enough picture of the action on its own, there’s no need to dress it up further with an adverb.
- Avoid redundant adverbs. Similar to the point above, but more specifically regarding adverbs that do nothing but reiterate what the verb is already doing. She screamed loudly. He snailed slowly across the street. Mark wept tearfully. Mary insisted assertively. These adverbs are pointless. They simply repeat the general meaning of the verb and do not add value to the sentence. Big no-no.
- Use adverbs to dress up or alter ‘boring’ verbs. Used sparingly, adverbs are a fabulous tool to spice up ordinary — but effective — verbs like said, walked and smiled (to name a few). Likewise, they can alter the meaning of the verb, painting a much clearer picture of what’s happening. She said brightly. He walked slowly toward her. Mark smiled sadly at Mary, for he knew this was goodbye. “I’ll miss you,” Mary said softly to him.
- Do not misplace your adverb. Sometimes misplacing your adverbs is grammatically incorrect. Other times, it just plain sounds stupid. “Mark practices usually three times a week” doesn’t sound right. It should be: “Mark usually practices three times a week”, or “Usually, Mark practices three times a week”.
That’s really all there is to it, folks. Adverbs are your friends! As long as you use them right, adverbs can dramatically enhance your writing, not hinder it as some may claim.
So, what do you think? Do you love adverbs as much as I do? Do you hate ’em? I am a blaspheming she-devil for criticizing the great Stephen King? I’d love to hear from you! Comment below and give me your take on it. HAPPY THANKSGIVING!
I wrote this post as part of the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. To continue hopping through to other great blogs (and I highly recommend you do) or to join as a fellow writer, click here.