Saturday, January 21, 2012

Lovingly Killing the Adverb

I have a problem. A bad habit, really, of using adverbs. It’s not the worst literary offense I could commit.

If Plagiarism is the writing equivalent of committing murder, over using adverbs is a bit like defacing public property. Like drawing on your desk when you’re bored. Like all painless crimes, its easy to commit, relatively guilt free, you don’t even think about it until you are sitting at that same desk again and come face to face with your crime.

You don’t catch the overindulgence of adverbs when writing your first draft, you catch it in editing, and cringe at how many times you say the character “whispered quietly.” How redundantly redundant.

Every creative writing professor I have ever had has warned of the dangers of adverbs, it is far worse to use too many adverbs than too many adjectives. Here is another metaphor. If words were a food pyramid, Nouns are the bottom tier, Verbs and Adjectives would be next, like proteins and vegetables, and Adverbs would be at the top, they are the literary fat, use sparingly. More often than I would like to admit I am guilty of criminally, liberally using Adverbs.

You can train yourself not to use them, even when writing your first draft, you can try your best to you strong, direct language. There are times and places where adverbs are acceptable, where they enrich your text rather than diminish it, but it is a fine line to walk. It also makes editing painful, I agonize if an adverb is necessary, or at least allowable, or if it chokes up the flow of the sentence. The best method I have found for line editing out unnecessary adverbs is reading out loud. Nothing raises the red flag better than hearing the sentence spoken. The beauty in editing is cleaning up your text, a chance to wash the graffiti off your desk.

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