And I didn’t even know until my editor pointed this out to me.
For those of you who don’t know, an adverb is anything used to describe an action word. If it ends in “ly”, it is likely an adverb. It’s not just limited to “ly” words, but that’s usually the dead giveaway that it’s an adverb.
Examples of adverbs that I love to use:
I could go on and on.
A classic case of adverb overuse can be shown from my rough draft of ‘A Symphony of Cicadas’:
“I’m not really sure what the procedure is,” he said apologetically. He had an inviting face, gently creased from years in the sun and enhanced by the helplessness in his smile as he looked fervently around the store. His hair, a dark chestnut, held a slight wave in a style just long enough to allow his hands to run repeatedly though it in frustration. He did this in the moment, a habit I had already become endeared to before I even knew his name, until his chocolate eyes finally rested on me with a silent plea for help.
Do you see them? There are even TWO adverbs in one of the sentences. My editor took one look at my novel and promptly emailed me to let me know that the adverbs had to go. She said she would fix a few of them, especially when she found a really elegant way to switch things around so that the adverb could be deleted. But mainly, she was leaving that part up to me. I did a quick count of all the adverbs in the novel using a search for any word that ended in an “ly”. Give or take a few hundred, I found around 1200 adverbs!
That’s seriously a lot of totally awkward adverbs marring up the flow of the novel I’ve painstakingly been working on for six excruciatingly long months.
I’m a pro at adverbs.
However, I received the novel back and had some work to do. I highlighted every single adverb in the novel and set to work, sentence by sentence, finding ways to recreate the sentences with adverbs.
The paragraph above became:
“I’m not really sure what the procedure is,” he apologized. He had an inviting face, enhanced by the helplessness in his smile as his gaze darted around the store. His dark chestnut hair held a slight wave in a style just long enough to allow his hands to run though it in frustration, as he was doing right now, a habit I found endearing. At last, his chocolate eyes rested on me with a silent plea for help.
Sometimes it’s simpler to also remove details that don’t change the direction of the story. It gives it more impact. Eliminating adverbs does the same thing – strengthening the sentence.
Adverbs are “telling” words. In other words, it’s lazy. Instead of describing his helplessness, I capsulated it all in the word “fervently”. By saying that my character’s gaze darted all around the store, you get the sense that he’s feeling rather helpless. I’m SHOWING you his helplessness instead of just telling you. I’m painting you a picture.
Also, by taking out words like “totally”, “very”, or other words meant to add strength to whatever verb you’re describing, you add more of a punch to a sentence.
Another example: “Of course, I’d been totally wrong about what was bugging him, as I saw Sam now smoothing his hand over another rock ready to drop into the water.”
This got turned to: “Of course, I’d been wrong about what was bugging him. Sam smoothed his hand over another rock, ready to drop it into the water.”
Do you see how it’s so much stronger? Not much changed except that one sentence became two, and the word “totally” was stricken from the sentence. The word “totally” was holding the sentence back, even though I had meant it to strengthen the meaning of the word “wrong”. Without it, the sentence has punch.
And do you realize I just gave you a SNEAK PREVIEW of the novel? You’re welcome. 🙂
As further proof that adverbs weaken your writing, my editor pointed me towards a blogger who describes why adverbs should be limited. Read more at victorinewrites.blogspot.com.
Oh, and a fun fact – it’s ok to leave adverbs in when a character is speaking. After all, we love to pepper in words like “totally” (or at least I do!) when we talk. Without them, it just seems too formal and forced.
In the meantime, almost all adverbs (not including dialogue) have now been banished from ‘A Symphony of Cicadas’. I am wrapping up the page style for print, reconfiguring the cover to fit the manuscript, and finalizing the acknowledgments and author pages. Then….it’s done. Having never done this before, I’m not sure how long it will take between reviewing the copy of the book and hitting PUBLISH. But we are still on cue for a March release date.
Are you still there with me? Are you as anxious as I am to be able to hold this book in your hand (and read it, of course!). Probably not. I don’t think anyone could be as excited (and terrified!) as I am that this book is about to be put out there.