Though I have been accused of being a member
I protest that I am not. I don’t hate adverbs. I just think they are like a part-time Walmart employee—over worked. There are so many wonderful, strong words out there that can do the job for you, why hire a skinny little thing that has to bring along his big brother to do the lifting? Let’s take a simple sentence as an example: John walked slowly toward Mary’s bedroom.
What image does this sentence bring to mind? Why is John “walking slowly?” Who the hell are these people anyway? Let’s go further and pretend that this is the first sentence of your novel/short story. What have you told the reader? How have you enticed the reader with this sentence? What will happen next? If the answers to these questions are- nothing, don’t know, don’t care- you see the problem with weak verbs propped up by adverbs.
What if the sentence read, John slouched toward Mary’s bedroom? Or, John snaked toward Mary’s bedroom. In the first sentence the reader may wonder why John is reluctant to go to Mary’s bedroom. We don’t know the answer yet but at least it poses the question. In the second sentence John is more sinister. Is John there for no good? It adds to the character development of John.
Yes, you could add to the sentence in an effort to define “walked slowly.” John walked slowly toward Mary’s bedroom, unzipping his pants, intent on no good. Ok, now we know John is the villain. But with a stronger verb in the sentence we can give the reader the info in a much more succinct and interesting way. John snaked toward Mary’s bedroom, unzipping his pants. The reader knows from the verb that John is intent on no good.
The Adverb Police can be uncompromising. Their leader, Stephen King, puts it plainly in his book On Writing: Adverbs are “…like dandelions. If you have one in your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions.”
I’ve have been known to harbor weeds in my lawn, so I can’t claim to belong to the Adverb Police. At best I’m in the neighborhood watch.
Nan Lundeen saysFebruary 22, 2015 at 9:47 pm
In describing the birth of Oliver Twist, the incomparable Charles Dickens writes, “Now if during this brief period, Oliver had been surrounded by careful grandmothers, anxious aunts, experienced nurses, and doctors of profound wisdom, he would most inevitably and indubitably have been killed in no time.” Dickens not only makes excellent use of adverbs, he employs adjectives with great skill. Nor does his use of the adjective or adverb reduce his verbs to whining wimps. I think the style of the era dictates some writers’ penchants for or against adverbs rather than intrinsic evil or virtue.