The Wicked Adverb

I’ve been thinking a lot about writing lately, Gentle Reader, and there are two items in particular I’ve been focused on: the Wicked Adverb, and Impostor Syndrome.  So, as I often do, I will take both to this blog and see if I can sort out my thoughts.

First on the docket, That Most Wicked of All Descriptions, The Adverb.

I personally do not like the adverb, so I agree with the adage that one must hunt it down and kill it in one’s writing.  That is to say, I don’t agree with reliance on the adverb instead of actual description.  The adverb can be useful.  Just look at any Victorian novelist, or the famous JK Rowling, for starters.  That is to say, these writers rose to prominence with the adverb, not in spite of the adverb.

However, too many people rely on the adverb to convey thoughts across the page.  Some, as I’ve said, are useful:

He said softly.

He ran quickly.

And, my personal favorite,

She said, not unkindly.

Let’s look at the last one, in particular.  This is one that I use in my own writing because it convey so much.  The addition of the “not unkindly” takes the words of the dialogue, which may be misconstrued, and makes them something approachable instead.  And, we can see someone say something, not unkindly.  There is a visual there, of a cocked head, a smile, a gentleness to the eyes.  I use those things, too, of course.  And that, I think, is the difference between Using The Adverb and Relying On The Adverb.

If you find your work dominated by any tic, whether it be an adverb, the beloved use of one image (I remember one writer, in particular, always described sexual activity as something akin to a “wet meaty sound” which is perhaps the least sexy image in the world), or the adherence to one word (I, for one, found myself in love with the word “burgeoning” during the writing of my dissertation, and had to Break That Habit), then it is time to Kill Your Darlings.  The problem with the adverb is just that: it’s a lazy child, and we tend to use it as an excuse more than anything.

What are your Darlings, Friends?


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