The only just literary critic is Christ, who admires more than does any man, the gifts He Himself has bestowed. – JRR Tolkien

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Adverbs – Part Three

The Dreaded LYs

Do I really have to avoid adverbs in my novel manuscript? Should my story have less adverbs? How to use adverbs in fiction without overdoing it.

When discussing adverbs in regards to writing fiction, the kind we’re usually talking about are the ly words – like clearly, dearly, and madly.

Many high-brow critics complain that the use of adverbs like this is a lazy man’s (or woman’s) tool.

I remember the first time I turned in some of my writing to an editor. It came back with lots of red marks, mostly scratching out my beloved ly words.

At the time, I was blissfully unaware of the proscription against this class of words. Why, I wondered, was there such a problem with adverbs?

Let’s look at a few examples of the use of these words, and compare sentences using them with sentences that don’t.

  • Elsa looked really closely at the owl.
  • Elsa examined the owl with the keen eye of an artist, focusing on the tiniest details down to each individual feather.

As you can see, avoiding the use of the adverbs really closely, requires a bit more effort, a bit more work.

But the end result is more satisfying, wouldn’t you agree?

Now compare the following:

  • Eamon quickly climbed the coconut tree.
  • Eamon ascended the coconut tree with the lightning-fast speed of a monkey.

Here’s another:

  • Abbi expertly played the A minor scale.
  • Abbi played the A minor scale just like an expert.

And one more:

  • Mac suddenly stopped the car.
  • Mac slammed on the brakes, bringing the car to a screeching halt.

Can you see where avoiding adverbs provides the opportunity to write more expressively?

It’s easy to see why the use of adverbs could be seen as a short-cut to good, expressive, writing.

Don’t panic if your book contains adverbs. Even the best writers sprinkle their pages with a few here and there.

Just be aware of them, and try wherever possible to find a way to eliminate them by crafting an even better sentence.

Regarding dialogue, your characters – when speaking – don’t have to avoid adverbs. If an adverb fits the speech pattern of your character, by all means use it.

How do I use adverbs the right way in a story? Are there too many adverbs in my writing?

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