1. The Crazy Kakoos
    Offline

    The Crazy Kakoos Member

    Joined:
    May 11, 2012
    Messages:
    87
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    Bakersfield

    Adverbs, Bad Writing?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by The Crazy Kakoos, Jul 10, 2012.

    I read through Stephen King's On Writing book a few weeks back and in it he talks about adverbs. His opinion of adverbs is to avoid them at all cost, especially when it describes how dialog is said. He considers it bad writing.

    I have read many other novels that, on many occasions, have used adverbs in the ways he says they shouldn't be used. I know Stephen King isn't the god of writing, but he has been around the block more than a few times and is very familiar with writing and its industry.

    I was wondering what all of you thought of adverbs?
     
  2. Quabajazzi
    Offline

    Quabajazzi Member

    Joined:
    Jul 9, 2012
    Messages:
    38
    Likes Received:
    0
    It's all about the writing. It's almost like describing, but it's a bit. off. If you do it because it contributes to the story in some way and in a good way, it's good. But it's about execution, and although guides are made to guide writers and are written for a reason, there aren't really many completely definite rules (besides, you know, making it readable or something).
     
  3. Thumpalumpacus
    Offline

    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2012
    Messages:
    566
    Likes Received:
    106
    Location:
    Texas
    I avoid adverbs, but not at the expense of flow -- if an adverb spares me awkward phrasing, I'll use it. Otherwise, I avoid them. That means that more often than not, they get stricken in the edit/rewrite phase.
     
  4. killbill
    Offline

    killbill Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2012
    Messages:
    559
    Likes Received:
    24
    Location:
    where the mind is without fear...
    Adverbs in dialogue tags should be avoided because it usually means the actual dialogue is not doing its job. The dialogue body, the context and the subtext (if there is any) should preferably let the readers know if the speaker is speaking angrily, shyly, softly, hastily, hesitantly... In a way you are relying on ' telling' rather than 'showing'. If your dialogue is fine and still you are adding an adverb tag, it's simply redundant.
     
  5. Mercissa
    Offline

    Mercissa Member

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2010
    Messages:
    39
    Likes Received:
    12
    Location:
    The Secret Academy
    I've heard people mention that adverbs can often distract readers from the actual dialogue. If the readers are only seeing the word "said", it becomes a repetition that they can easily fade out in order to make themselves more immersed in the actual dialogue. But if there are adverbs embedded in there as well, it becomes a chore for the readers since they will have to read through every word in case they've missed out a detail or two.
     
  6. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Everyone has given good advice. Don't become a hostage to writing rules. There are many times they need to be broken -- you just need to learn when to do so. Especially in the first draft, write what you want to write. Don't let any hard and fast rule impede the flow of your words. In revision, it is a good idea to examine the adverbs you use (especially if you have a lot of them) and really think about whether they are necessary. Many times they are merely redundant or they are trying to convey something you haven't adequately otherwise expressed.

    Example: "Stop!" he shouted excitedly. "Excitedly" is completely unnecessary. ("Shouted" probably is, as well, but that's another issue.)

    It's harder to come up with an example of a good adverb usage off the cuff -- (hence demonstrating the value of the rule as a general guideline). Something like,
    A crash in the laundry room awoke Sandy. He wished he weren't alone in the house and sat in bed for a minute before deciding he needed to investigate. He paused at the top of the stairs. Slowly, he put his foot on the first stair.

    That's not the best, but hopefully you see that there is at least an argument for using the adverb "slowly."

    Sometimes adverbs are very useful. So don't count any words out based solely on their part of speech. On another site, someone mentioned that they'd just heard a new "rule" -- NO ADJECTIVES. The writers on that site had a lot of fun with that one.

    If you start focusing too much on writing rules, instead of on the writing, you can end up with some very clunky prose.
     
  7. lostinwebspace
    Offline

    lostinwebspace Active Member

    Joined:
    Mar 5, 2011
    Messages:
    466
    Likes Received:
    17
    Location:
    Canada
    I should start by saying I've seen King use adverbs and adverbial phrases in and out of dialog tags. So when he says "at all costs," he's probably more warning the beginning writer, who will then learn when to use and not to use through experience.

    But I agree with everyone here: dialog tags shouldn't have adverbs unless absolutely necessary. Your first resort is the dialog itself, next is the characterization, and next is the subtext around the dialog. An adverb should be used only if all those things would make the narration around the dialog too bulky.

    Outside of dialog tags, it's unavoidable to strike all adverbs from your story. But they should probably be the most hated out of all words.
     
  8. Lemex
    Offline

    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

    Joined:
    Oct 2, 2007
    Messages:
    10,507
    Likes Received:
    3,151
    Location:
    Northeast England
    ^ Agreed. King breaks a lot of his own rules, but it works for him I guess.

    I tend to stay away from them. I like to use the sentence, and what's happening to make how characters say things clear. But sometimes I do find them helpful.
     
  9. shadowwalker
    Offline

    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 27, 2011
    Messages:
    3,299
    Likes Received:
    851
    Adverbs (and adjectives, I suppose) are something I use when the action is ambiguous, even within the context. Always hard to think of a good example when one needs it, of course, but say when a character's reaction could be either resignation or misunderstanding - then a judicious adverb could make it clear without a lot of extra dialogue or physical actions. Like I say, not the greatest example, but...
     
  10. minstrel
    Offline

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 11, 2010
    Messages:
    8,724
    Likes Received:
    4,821
    Location:
    Near Los Angeles
    This is one of those silly rules that started off with a noble intent. I think the rule should really be "Beware of using too many adverbs in dialogue tags." The problem is that inexperienced writers kept asking questions like "How many is too many?" and "What are dialogue tags?" and "WHY can't I say my character is talking loudly when he's, you know, talking loudly?"

    Rather than attempt patient and reasonable answers to all these questions, experienced writers and instructors just started hollering "NO ADVERBS! NONE AT ALL! EVER EVER EVER!" Sure, this is decidedly lowbrow, but it's easy for lazy instructors and dull-witted students, so it persists.

    If you're halfway intelligent and have a good ear for prose, feel free to ignore this rule.
     
  11. Thumpalumpacus
    Offline

    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2012
    Messages:
    566
    Likes Received:
    106
    Location:
    Texas
    He makes exactly that point in the book, if I remember correctly.
     
  12. FirstTimeNovelist91
    Offline

    FirstTimeNovelist91 Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jun 19, 2012
    Messages:
    106
    Likes Received:
    1
    Location:
    United States
    I think he needs to take his own advice, because Carrie is littered with adverbs.
     
  13. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    In defense of Mr. King -- I've only skimmed his book (although I plan to actually read it when I get a chance) but I saw a portion where he discusses adverbs. He says something along the lines of that in editing he gets rid of as many adverbs as he can, although certainly not all of them. So if he does outright state that adverbs should be avoided at all costs, his advice is tempered later in the book, admitting that he himself cannot avoid all of them.
     
  14. Thumpalumpacus
    Offline

    Thumpalumpacus Contributing Member

    Joined:
    Jun 28, 2012
    Messages:
    566
    Likes Received:
    106
    Location:
    Texas
    He actually admits his guilt at ignoring this rule even as he preaches it. He gets a pass, for my money -- his voice is strong enough that technical defects are overcome by dint of personality, often enough. He tells a good story, and that's all I ask out of a novelist.
     
  15. Mckk
    Offline

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2010
    Messages:
    4,749
    Likes Received:
    2,534
    If it delivers the punch, the emotion, the hook - then why not?

    As with everything, it's never "never ever" (sorry for the pun) - it's silly to say "Don't EVER do this!" when it comes to writing - it's too abstract, there're too many factors to have such clear cut rules. If you notice, most of the best rules are ones that seemingly contradict - eg. Show, don't tell, but sometimes telling is better than showing. Write dialogue like how people actually speak, except don't because that's boring. And those are just the 2 famous ones.

    There'll be occasions when adverbs are beautiful, and occasions when it's yuck. Use your own discretion and stop looking for someone to justify it - you're the writer, trust your own instincts. Instead of look for rules to follow, look at brilliant authors whom you admire and respect and whose writing makes you think, laugh, cry, gasp. Writing is not black and white, and that's why it's so damn much fun :D
     
    1 person likes this.
  16. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Adverbs are not bad writing. Overuse of adverbs is bad writing, but so is overuse of anything. Adverbs get attention because they're particularly likely to be overused.

    As you say, Stephen King is not the god of writing -- personally I don't much like his writing, and have never managed to endure one of his books all the way to the end. If you are reading a book the first question to ask is whether you enjoy it or not. Then if you are reading critically you try to work out why you like it (or not). If you like it but it seems to be breaking some "rules" then try to work out why it can get away with breaking those "rules". One possibility you need to consider is that the rule is complete rubbish or (more likely) has been grossly overstated. "Avoid adverbs at all cost" is grossly overstating the matter; just be careful with them, and take especial care to avoid "Tom Swifties" (look it up).
     
  17. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    Easier than you might think. "After living in the same house for a week they started to sleep together." Most folks only notice -ly words as adverbs (although not all -ly words are adverbs) and they forget about words like "together".
     
  18. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    I'm not sure this is entirely valid. In this example, "together" isn't really describing *how* they are actually sleeping. It is part of a phrase -- "sleep together," that generally is understood to mean having sex. If you take away the "together" the sentence has an entirely different meaning.
     
  19. digitig
    Offline

    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jan 21, 2010
    Messages:
    2,502
    Likes Received:
    79
    Location:
    Orpington, Bromley, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
    It doesn't have to -- there's the old Dave Allen joke about the priest reassuring the unmarried couple that there's nothing sinful about them sleeping together -- as long as they just slept. I could just as well have written "They had taken their vacations together ever since they were married, but the year their son left home they decided to vacation apart". "Together" and "apart" are both adverbs in that sentence ("apart" can be an adjective, of course, but it isn't in that context).

    The point is that the rule about adverbs -- to the extent that there is a "rule" -- only applies to some adverbs: roughly, to adverbs of manner.
     
  20. chicagoliz
    Offline

    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    May 30, 2012
    Messages:
    3,295
    Likes Received:
    815
    Location:
    Pennsylvania
    Since we're actually arguing on the same side, with respect to the original issue, I don't want to travel too far down this road to inanity, but...
    I acknowledge you're correct in that "together" is an adverb, and we agree that adverbs are sometimes necessary and can be useful.
    As you point out with the joke, the phrase "sleeping together" is still different from other cases, such as the "vacation together" you mention. Although "together" modifies "vacation," it does not change the inherent meaning of the word. Yet in "sleeping together" it does change the entire meaning of the word. In that case the writer does not mean "sleep," or if he does, these words can be played with for comedic effect. So I don't think it's really a great example insofar as the OP's original issue.

    I think your point that this rule applies mostly (perhaps always, to the extent it applies) to adverbs of manner is spot-on. That is an excellent way to state the "rule," keeping the remainder of the debate the same.
     
  21. Show
    Offline

    Show Contributing Member Contributor

    Joined:
    Jul 25, 2008
    Messages:
    1,495
    Likes Received:
    30
    Which likely defeats the purpose of such advice anyway. lol

    Adverbs are a literary spice. They can have effect but too much [in the wrong places] will kill you. ;)
     
  22. Jhunter
    Offline

    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

    Joined:
    Sep 23, 2011
    Messages:
    1,233
    Likes Received:
    45
    Location:
    Southern California
    I stay away from "ly" adverbs. But the rest, I use when needed.
     
  23. Morkonan
    Offline

    Morkonan Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2012
    Messages:
    101
    Likes Received:
    7
    As others have said, that's relative to dialogue attributions. It would be terribly difficult to do away with all adverbs.

    Don't be lazy. In other words, if you can think of a better way to describe something rather than just using a catch-all adverb, do so. But, you can't interrupt your pacing when trying to avoid the use of adverbs. In short, use them smartly, yet sparingly and, above all, use them appropriately.
     
  24. Cogito
    Offline

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    35,935
    Likes Received:
    2,043
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Adverbs have a purpose, but they are seriously overused by novice writers, in lieu of finding better verbs. Also, adverbs should generally be avoided in dialogue tags.

    Most writers' work would be improved by surgically removing adverbs. Adverbs are not King's greatest sin, but I still hesitate to endorse taking writing advice from him. He's not awful - at least not always. But he's not that great either. He is prolific.
     
  25. Morkonan
    Offline

    Morkonan Senior Member

    Joined:
    Jul 18, 2012
    Messages:
    101
    Likes Received:
    7
    I agree.

    I am also not a general fan of King. However, I do acknowledge him as one of the best Character writers in the business. For that, he is a Master and deserves every bit of praise he has received. Few writers are ever able to create as many memorable characters is so brief a number of words.. and kill them off so quickly.
     

Share This Page