As if the world needs another post about Adverbs.

horse

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.

Generally.

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:

horse21. 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?

*********************

Bonus content!

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.

Baker and his man purse. You gotta prollem widdat?

Baker and his man purse. You gotta prollem widdat?

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35 responses to “As if the world needs another post about Adverbs.

  • sjoycarlson

    I agree with you…. For me lazy or unnecessary adverb use really jumps out at me during dialogue, like in your examples above. When I critique other authors’ work, most times what they’re trying to say with the adverb is already implied in the dialogue. A very simple example: “I don’t care what you say!” he yelled angrily. We can tell he’s angry by the harsh words used, the tag “yell” and the !. But I agree there are situations where they do enhance without being lazy, when used sparingly 🙂 Also, should you ever tack an -ly onto an -ed word? (ex: excitedly)? I don’t know the rule for that. Anyway, thanks for the post!

  • nrhatch

    Yes. I agree. Completely.

    I’m glad your man purse is a manly shade and not minty green to go with your minty fresh gum. Avoid pastels. They’ll clash with your manly beard and your terrifyingly sinister scowl.

  • Kevin Brennan

    Your threatening visage makes me want to run hastily out and buy a man-purse. To-night!

  • skywalkerstoryteller

    Attractive photo – as always writing on the point and useful advice.

  • toconnell88

    Spot on, champ. Have always felt this way. A time and place for everything.

  • mobewan

    Adverbs. There is a time and a place. Occasionally, and to accentuate action rather than expression.

    Man bags. There is a time and a place. As often as humanly possible and swinging against my hips.

  • livelytwist

    Avoiding lazy adverbs is like my morning jog- makes you moan, makes you think, makes you sweat. But the rewards? Ah, as beautiful as me in my flowery summer dress.

    Who dares say anything against your man purse with that scowl? Not I said the fox 🙂

    • ericjbaker

      If I attempted a morning job, it would leave me nauseous and limping the rest of the day. And my closet is a desolate wasteland for those seeking flowery dresses.

      My life is a mess compared to yours.

      😥

  • Arkenaten

    Immediately this appeared in my mailbox I instantly clicked and popped over. Suddenly I am crapingly and miserably wondering if I have unforgivably and obscenely decorated my current work with unnecessarily redundant adverbs.
    I shall now sulkily open up the MS and thoroughly and painstakingly check.

    Oh..the horror.. 😉

    Excellent post. Made me smile AND sit up. In my book, can’t ask for more than that.

    • ericjbaker

      I’m glad I can do my part to entertain The Ark. Your writing is already sharp, so I’m not sure you need the advice portion of this post.

      🙂

      • Arkenaten

        Well, thank you kind sir. But one is never too young too learn or too old or in my case, too good looking.

        The overuse of adverbs might be a sign of weak writing, so I’ve read, and Twain wrote: If in doubt, leave ’em out.

        Who am I to argue with either you or Twain?

        Besides, if such exercises make one do nothing more than reread a sentence or paragraph to check, then this can only be a good thing.

  • change it up editing

    In my experience, once a writer understands how adverbs often create the “show, don’t tell” problem, the writing improves. No matter how many posts are written about adverbs, I continue to receive manuscripts for editing that are loaded with them. I love adverbs as much as the next person (they are my #2 right after semicolons), and the problem with most “DO NOT use adverbs” posts is that nothing in writing is an absolute—the trick is to use every tool at your disposal to its best and highest purpose.

    Kinda like a man purse.

    • ericjbaker

      Well said, as usual. The fact that we agree helps!

      My man purse has a hidden adverb and semicolon compartment for those rare times when they are needed. I also keep my lip balm in there, so don’t be surprised if I accidentally write “Burt’s Bees” in place of an adverb (like the one I used 14 words ago).

  • Richard Leonard

    Yeah, adverbs. Good stuff.

    Ah, Aus is so different. Or maybe it’s an example of the gender stereotypes you’re talking about. Here a purse is strictly a womans device, specially sized to carry nothing more than notes, coins and cards. The man’s equivalent is called wallet. For all her other crap she uses a handbag, usually large enough to carry a small car but with only a relatively flimsy strap that prevents her from actually doing so. Said strap is long enough to allow the handbag to be slung over the shoulder, much like your messenger bag, er… purse, so maybe shoulder bag is more appropriate. If I need to carry around more crap than will fit in one hand or a wallet in the pocket, I’ll take my backpack. Possibly overkill but it’s hands-free!

    • ericjbaker

      There seems to be a blurring of terms, between purse, handbag, and pocket book. When I was a wee lad, the small one for credit cards was a purse and the big one was a pocket book. Now it seems like a small pocket book is a purse and the big one is a handbag.

      All I know is, people should be able to carry whatever they want in whatever color they want without society arbitrarily deciding whether one’s choice is acceptable or not.

  • Jill Weatherholt

    We all can benefit from another post about adverbs…thanks!
    Let me know when you’re ready to change to a summer purse, Eric, I’ve got a closet full of them.

  • 1WriteWay

    I absolutely love the beard and undoubtedly love the man purse 🙂

  • Janna G. Noelle

    In the medieval times, everyone carried a purse; way to keep it real, EJ. 😎

    As for your thoughts on adverbs, I wholeheartedly agreed! And as a follow-up to point #2, When the result is what’s known as a Tom Swifty: “Get to the back of the boat,” Tom said sternly.

    • ericjbaker

      That joke was a real “bow” wow… see what I did there? 😉

      Are you going to tell us what was in a medieval purse, or will we have to read the novel for that?

      Speaking of which, I’ve written myself into a spot that requires I do some more research. Cor Blimey!

      • Janna G. Noelle

        The only thing in the purse was money; it was just a little pouch that hung from the belt – not nearly as capacious as your man-purse, so no space for nail clippers, lip balm or sugarless gum.

        I am pleased to discover I’m not the only one who carries nail clippers, though. There’s nothing worse than getting a hang nail out of doors!

        Research for the win! 😀

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