Standing in a circle, we face each other, panting and glazed with sweat. Blood-smeared clubs dangle from our hands, heavy now from all the blows. On the ground before us lies a mass of pulverized meat, guts, bone, and hair.
It’s the Adverbs Suck horse, and we have killed him across all the known universes of the cosmic alliance. He is ready for the glue factory, little in the way of processing needed.
Then Baker says, “Can I just make one more comment about adverbs?”
The rest of us groan.
Never Use Adverbs 98% of the Time
So I happened upon a dude’s blog the other day in which he discussed the “ly” thing. I got the feeling he didn’t think they were the worst thing ever, but also that they weren’t great and should generally be avoided.
Yeah, I used an adverb.
I’ve long maintained here that writing rules aren’t rules but firm guidelines. When you begin to view rules as absolute, you lose sight of the story. Would you wreck a sentence that works to ensure it conforms to rules?
I agree that adverbs can be indicators of lazy writing and that they tell instead of showing, the main knocks against them. I don’t agree that they are absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances. See, I just used another one, absolutely. It works for the sentence. It lends dramatic emphasis to “unacceptable.” I could find another way to write that sentence, but the sentence would be equal, not better, and it might even be longer.
Adverbs can make a point in an economical manner. Or, they can do it “economically,” which is more economical. Ready for some blasphemy? Sometimes telling is OK, like when it’s necessary to connect the interesting bits of the story with a line of exposition so quick you won’t even notice it’s exposition. Every writer uses exposition, and everyone who freaks out over one line of it is too worried about rules and not enough about enjoying the story. Dickens’ “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times,” what some may argue is (AKA arguably) the most famous line in all of fiction, is exposition.
I’ve digressed. Adverbs are 98% bad for the reasons often cited. Here are my guidelines for when not to use them:
1. When integrated into the action. This is the lazy part people mention.
He struck the horse angrily, as if somehow killing something already dead would make people realize that JJ Abrams ruined Star Trek, despite the movies being pretty good, winning acclaim, and being successful.
A better choice: He struck the horse until his palm stung…
2. When integrated into a dialog tag. This is the telling part people mention.
“I’m going to keep hitting this dead horse until you admit I’m right,” Pinky said passionately yet frustratedly.
A better choice: Pinky’s face knotted and he challenged Mina with a glare. “I’m going to keep hitting this horse until you admit I’m right.”
3. When it makes you cringe.
You know, this is a pretty good guideline for any component of writing. If it sounds awkward, it is.
The moral of the story: Adverbs are not great, but neither is unbending compliance to and enforcement of any single writing “rule.”
Thoughts? Comments? Abuse?
Gender stereotypes are silly, and few are more silly to me than the notion that a woman carries a purse and a man does not. I’ve got a wallet, a big wad of car keys with two remotes and a bunch of store cards, a Samsung Galaxy phone, lip balm, nail clippers, minty sugarless gum, and sometimes a CD or two to carry around. You think all that junk is going to fit in the pocket of my jeans?
So here it is, as requested by my blogging buddy Janna Noelle, a picture of me with my brand new man purse. No, it’s not a “messenger bag.” It’s a purse. I grew a beard and scowled just to accentuate my manliness. That is, if this Chuck Norris-like bucket of testosterone can carry a purse, so can you, fellas.