What Not To Do – Adverbs


Adverbs. I shudder.

The reason adverbs detract from a passage is because they are the culprit that leads to telling and not showing. They weaken writing and are for the literary coward and layabout. No offense to all you cowards and layabouts-I’m afraid of a ringing phone and am on the couch right now with no intention of leaving for at least another hour.

First, let us define an adverb.

An adverb modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb or another adverb. The usual suspects are words that end in -ly. Trickier words would be ones like askance, hard, very, and well. Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, but please use them sparingly-see what I did there?

I wrapped my coat tightly around my neck. The very thick snow covered my car, and I could barely see the door handle. It was extremely cold when I touched it, and my eyes narrowed against the wind that bitterly blew against my face, which I could hardly feel. 

That was painful, non-descriptive- anemic. Here is the literary morphine:

I wrapped my coat tight around my neck. The thick snow blanketed my car and I couldn’t see the door handle. It was like an ice cube when I touched it, and my eyes narrowed against the bitter wind that assaulted my frozen face. 

In place of an adverb it is possible to use a metaphor or simile, like how I replaced extremely cold with like an ice cube. Also, notice that the second example has less words than the first, although it is more descriptive. If you insist on telling with those blasted adverbs, you’ll say too much, and ruin the mood.

The same rules apply as in the last post-make it bold. Nouns and verbs are the muscles of your writing, and you don’t want to be scrawny.

Next, we will cover commas and in particular, comma splices. I shudder again.