Adverbs: The Work of the Devil?

adverbsOne frequently reads writing advice to the effect that adverbs are the source of all evil. Some of these articles are so vehement I actually checked the Bible to see if adverbs were a result of Adam and Eve eating from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil in the book of Genesis.

My own, rather more liberal view on adverbs is simple: if you use them to clarify, no problem.

For example, in “Simon smiled happily” the “happily” is superfluous. On the other hand “Simon smiled cruelly” could work well, depending on the context of course. If Simon is busy sadistically torturing a victim, then “cruelly” would also be superfluous as his sadistic acts speak for themselves. On the other hand such a sentence could work if the expression turns a scene. Perhaps you think Simon is a good guy then all of a sudden he smiles cruelly, indicating bad things to come.

Another example: people can sigh for different reasons. “Simon sighed…” Contentedly? Wearily? Reluctantly? Again it depends on the individual scene in which Simon sighs, but sometimes adding the adverb helps.

In short, for me, good use of adverbs is no bad thing. As usual it is all about context.


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3 Responses to Adverbs: The Work of the Devil?

  1. Reblogged this on Author D.M. Miller and commented:
    Adverb-phobia? Surprisingly, there is such a thing. (Did you see what I did there? 😉 ) In the following blog post, author Simon Dillon brings up the issue which is apparently driving the writing experts crazy.

    In writing, there are fads, and this one joins a long list of no-no’s:

    1. Don’t tell the story; show it.
    2. Don’t use too many words; you’re on a “word budget.”
    3. Don’t be redundant. (Word budget again.)
    4. Don’t use words like “very” or “feel.”
    5. Don’t open with a dream, alarm clock, or dialog.
    6. Don’t overuse dialog.
    7. Don’t use many adjectives to explain things. (Show, don’t tell again.)
    8. Don’t have a backstory.
    9. Don’t start sentences with conjunctions.
    10. Don’t use contractions; use contractions.

    I don’t know about other writers out there, but I’m getting tired of the so-called “experts” telling me what I can and cannot do. In certain cases, they may have a point, but these rules are causing far too much conformity in popular fiction these days. Perhaps being superfluous or redundant can be a good thing, driving a point home. Perhaps it’s okay to tell the story (we are storytellers, are we not?), or to cut off sentences for effect, or use those dreaded adjectives and adverbs.

    Let them say what they will, but if a story is entertaining, that’s what matters. No “expert” will suffocate my creativity.

    Here’s what Simon Dillon has to say about it:

    • I’m afraid Simon is in good company here. Here’s Stephen King’s thoughts on the issue from his terrific book “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft:”
      “I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.”

  2. schillingklaus says:

    I break all those perverse rules religiously and shamelessly.

    I boycott all “show-don’t-tell” type fiction, including the nonsensical stuff of some self-proclaimed King of contemporary fiction.

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