Confessions of an Adverb Junkie
by Patrick Hodges
Hello. My name is Patrick, and I am an adverb junkie.
(Everyone: Hi, Patrick! We warmly welcome you openly!)
I’m an emotional guy, and I write the same way. I am of the firm belief that every spoken word, every action, needs to have some kind of emotion (even if it’s a lack of emotion – ponder THAT) attached to it. A person can’t just knock on a door; they have to “rap loudly and purposefully” on it. A person can’t just nod their head, they have to “nod slowly.”
I’ve been told repeatedly (there I go again…) that I am overly dependent on adverbs. And it’s taken me some time to realize that the criticism is accurate. This new awareness is like being wakened from a really pleasant dream by having a bucket of ice water dumped over your head.
Is there a 12-step program to conquer Adverb Addiction? No. But there is some good advice, which I will now impart.
First, I’m sure all (or at least most) of you are smart enough to know that a descriptor that adds absolutely nothing to the word it’s supposed to enhance is useless. I’ve actually read a book that had a character “whispering softly.” Mmm, hmm. I’m sure they yell loudly, too. C’mon, author. I’m with you on conveying volume, but this just sounds stupid.
Secondly, I’ve come to learn that an adverb is not necessary if it can be implied from the dialogue or action. For example:
His face flushed with intense anger, he said forcefully, “Get out of my house!”
OK, I take the point here. I can remove the word “forcefully” and lose nothing. By the description of the speaker’s face and the words spoken (punctuated by an exclamation point, no less), the reader can infer that the words aren’t been spoken in a calm, pleasant tone.
Look, you write, you’re gonna need adverbs, There’s just no way around it. But they have to add substance and accentuate your prose, or they’re useless and simply come off as lazy writing. A woman can say the most innocuous thing, followed by a dialogue tag, “she said.” Which is fine, but if the tag is followed by an unexpected adverb like “she said seductively,” well, that adds an element that paints the picture in your mind in that much more color.
So if you’re the kind of author who self-edits a lot, do a search of your manuscript for the number of times you have the two-letter combination “ly.” I did recently, and I damn near passed out. I went through it, page by page, and with some verbal dexterity, I was able to excise more than half of the unnecessary adverbs. The ones I left – I think – are necessary. The rest was just lipstick on a pig.
This concludes the first and only meeting of Adverbs Anonymous. Please close the door on the way out … gently. (Hey, it’s a process.)
Patrick Hodges lives in Arizona with his wife of 15 years, Vaneza. After doing weekly columns for entertainment-related websites, he has turned his attention to writing fiction. He is passionate about sending positive messages to young people. Patrick has authored three books: Joshua’s Island, Ethan’s Secret, and Sophie’s Different. You may reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or “like” him on Facebook.