1. Alex A.
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    Alex A. Member

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    Use of Adverbs

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Alex A., Apr 16, 2011.

    I was discussing writing with one of my work groups in college and this one girl said that the use of adverbs are redundant and are should only be used when necessary. She took a Craft of Fiction class last semester where she learned that. However, I was slightly appalled. Redundant? Adverbs are awesome, they let the reader know how something was said or done.While I understand that instead of using 'gingerly walked' you could use 'tiptoed', but what about when speaking?



    "Go to hell." James said defiantly.
    "Go to hell." James said jokingly.

    Three different ways of saying something. If I accepted this girls insight would I just write:

    "Go to hell," James said, scowling at the man.
    "Go to hell," James said with a smile on his face, clearly jesting.


    I guess after looking at the two, the second example seems more detailed and a better choice.

    Any thoughts supporting this logic? Against?
     
  2. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    adverb heavy writing makes my eyes bleed , i do not dig them, i do not try to use them...if i write a gingerly walking character please shoot me
     
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  3. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    Sorry, after-dialog adverbs aren't awesome. :p

    The problem, as you yourself state it, is let the reader know how something was said. Meaning, they just got the dialog without the inflection, tone or subtext, and after reading that dialog they were then informed how it should have been, but wasn't necessarily, supposed to have been read/said.

    The only way such adverbs would be handy is to come before, which is awkward in contemporary fiction (possibly unfortunately, I'm not one to judge):

    James said defiantly: "Go to hell."

    And even your examples you give on your friend's behalf aren't very good. Such action, imo, should usually come before the dialog, to help indicate intonations and inflections, etc:

    James scowled at the man. "Go to hell."

    James smiled. "Go to hell."

    Right there, the actions set up how the dialog is read, and the dialog doesn't need modified after it's already been delivered (which is as clumsy as in telling a joke having to go back and say 'oops, I forgot to tell you about suchandsuch')

    If you or anyone else is interested in studying dialog, I recommend Richard Bausch. Yep, he's literary, which I know isn't to everyone's tastes, but that doesn't mean there aren't lessons to learn.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that adverbs should usually be avoided. They generally spoonfeed simplified information to the reader, instead of trusting the reader to understand the nuances of the situation. Only when other ways of communicating the information have been tried without success should an author give up and use an adverb.

    For your samples, I'd use something like:

    James set his jaw. "Go to hell."
    James raised his eyebrows and grinned. "Ah, go to hell."

    ChickenFreak

    Edited to add: I feel the urge to say that my examples aren't _good_. There's a bad-children's-novel feel about them. But I still prefer them to adverbs. :)
     
  5. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    'Go to hell '...
    ...is an aggressive thing to say - If that is how it is meant then it does not need any clarifications, it can stand on its own.

    However, if it is meant to come across in a friendly manner then you will need to show that, again for clarification

    'Go to hell' he joked/laughed/smiled.

    Edit
    I've just had another thought - If you want to provide some menacing undertones - 'Go to hell!' he smiled, unconvincingly.
     
  6. madhoca
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    madhoca Contributing Member Contributor

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    lol I've just laughed coffee all over the keyboard *mops up mess*

    I 100% agree with the examples given by Chicken Freak and Popsicle.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Unnecessary adverbs are an infestation. A few won't do much harm, but en masse they erode and undermine the structue of your writing.

    The problem with your sample is it is out of context. Use the context to establish the tone of hostility or good natured ribbing, instead of unfetterd adverbs:
    vs.
     
  8. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    You know what do what you feel is right for you and your story. The most spellbinding, gripping and richly told story I have ever read is littered with adverbs I opened the book to a page randomly to find on the one page:
    perfectly
    gently
    hurriedly
    quickly
    damply and sure there were a few others.

    Amazon has yet to have a review of this book that is less than four stars and as a result of the amazing reviews on various sites, Mist Over Pendle has recently been brought back into print. It makes lots of mistakes - it info dumps, over describes, even begins with several paragraphs worth of backstory. The reason for the two four star reviews seem to be the new print has been edited differently and is rubbish in comparison.

    The imagery, atmosphere, characterisation, and dialogue are amazing - his twist on the historical story is interesting and to be honest don't think it could be any better. For myself and clearly several other people this book could not be improved. Attempts to modernise it with modern editing judging by the reviews have affected it negatively.

    I don't use them a lot in my stories, sometimes I feel they add to scene but only have like three or four in a whole novel. They don't suit my fiction style I am more fast paced and the story is constantly moving forward. They suit Robert Neill's style perfectly - they give a historical feel without needing to use overly flowery descriptions. LOL I am using a lot of adverbs in this post. I am now wondering if they may actually be what I need for my story set in the eighteenth century hmmm ....
     
  9. Eunoia
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    Eunoia Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's the whole 'show, don't tell' rule I guess. I read this story by someone the other day, and it was full of adverbs and it annoyed me. I like the fact there's just 'he/she said' etc. and then, if necessary, showing how they said it in a following line. It can get repetitive if after each dialogue there's 'he said loudly', 'he said menacingly', 'she said reluctantly', 'she said jokingly' etc.
     
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  10. VM80
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    VM80 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Adverbs are fine in moderation.

    I think lots of 'beginners' use too many. I know I did. I recently found a very old story of mine and noticed it immediately. Sometimes there were more than one in a sentence - definite overkill!

    Now I use adverbs sparingly.
     
  11. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    First thing to do if you feel you need an adverb with dialog is to look at your dialog and see if it can be written better. A reader will often know how something was said by the context and the words you choose. I find that adverbs are only useful if the way something is said is contrary to how the passage would normally be interpreted under the circumstances. And even then you can often find better ways of expressing it than by use of adverbs.

    A few adverbs here and there aren't a problem, but some writing is loaded with it, and that is a hallmark of an amateur writer (and an unimaginative one in my view). It is also a weak form of writing. If you saw "he ran quickly," that is a weaker than saying "he sprinted," or coming up with an even better word.

    I agree. I've read stories like this, where almost every dialog tag has an adverb in it. Bad stuff.

    In fact, I think the general inclination to add info into a dialog tag is more prevalent in beginning writers, to the point that every bit of dialog has some further descriptor or action associated with it. Not needed. In fact, in many cases you don't even need the dialog tag.
     
  12. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    better yet
    A blush surfaced on James' face, "I love you too."
     
  13. Alex A.
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    Alex A. Member

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    Thank you everyone! Helped me out a lot. There was a lot said so I am not going to reply to all so I'll give a list of what I think I will address:

    1.) Popsicle death - yes my examples were pretty bad. I like the yours better. Instead of said, joked, smiled, or scowled is a way better replacement... thank you.

    2.)Chicken Freak/ Trilby/ Cogito - All better ways to approach that sentence, thank you.

    3.)Eunoia - yes, I personally hate the word said and try to avoid it. However, I used adverbs to spruce it up when I had to use it. I know my favorite author, Raymond Feist, constantly uses said and it gets annoying.

    4.) Steerpike - That does seem like the best tactic, and I agree.

    Thanks again everyone for the help. Glad I didn't post an excerpt from my book in progress before posting this.
     
  14. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    When I look at a piece before I ever start to read in earnest my eyes race the page for -ly words, if I see an inordinate amount I can not muster the motivation to read the work....
     
  15. digitig
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    digitig Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good luck eliminating words such as "upstairs" and "tomorrow" from your writing -- they're both adverbs.

    The problem with adverbs is that they're used too often as a lazy shortcut, and it's lazy shortcuts that need eliminating from your writing.

    What most writers get anxious about is the adverbs that end "-ly", but even they're ok in moderation. I wouldn't see anything wrong with the occasional sentence like "He opened the door carefully, checking for traps." It's certainly not worth changing it to "He opened the door with care, checking for traps" or "he inched the door open, checking for traps" just to get rid of the -ly adverb.

    Adverbs (the -ly ones, anyway) are a particular case of showing v. telling. The tell. Some people quote the simplistic rule "show, don't tell", but that leads to writing that is almost as bad as telling, not showing. There's a proper place for both, but novice writers tend to get the balance way too far on the "telling" side (and use way too many -ly adverbs). So in writing classes and forums tutors need to be brutal in cutting the "telling" out. But it shouldn't be cut out completely, except perhaps as an exercise. Look at some of the other threads about showing and telling, where this has been discussed in considerable detail.
     
  16. popsicledeath
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    popsicledeath Banned

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    The focus shouldn't be on whether adverbs exist or not in a manuscript, but whether your writing is as strong as it could be. That's why you see a lot of adverbs in beginning writing. It's not that people learn the rule to not use adverbs (it's not a rule, it's a simplistic adage people parrot thinking they've learned something profound). It's that as writers get better they learn adverbs aren't always the best way to express something. As mentioned, they're often weak due to being less specific than using a strong verb.

    The natural evolution of a writer is to first write: He ran. When that begs the question how he ran, the writer naturally takes the next step: quickly, he ran quickly. When that construction begs the question what running quickly looks and feels like, is usually when the writer finds a stronger form by using a stronger verb. This is also when the best writers take aims to create the experience of running quickly, making the action something felt by the reader, not just observed.

    So, adverbs aren't bad, bad writing is bad, and one is better served looking deeper than just blindly following the adage that "the road to hell is paved with hypocrisy" (I think that's how Steven King put it, right? OR is it adverbs King paves his work with?)
     
  17. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just FYI, the same folks that disapprove of adverbs tend to say that when you need a dialog tag, it's usually best to just use "said" instead of uttered or exclaimed or moaned or any of the substitutes. I agree. So, sadly, we're trying to take away two tools that you like.

    Chicken
     
  18. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yep. I think it is best to use 'said' if you need a dialog tag as all (and often you don't). "Said" becomes invisible. Uttered, groaned, barked, ejaculated, screeched, howled, hissed, etc. become comical.
     
  19. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    In most cases you don't need to use adverbs, uttered, moaned, said. There is the option of using body language and context to indicate who is speaking.


    James balls his fist, his jaw tenses, 'Go to hell!'

    James throws his head back and laughs, , 'Go to hell.'
     
  20. cybrxkhan
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    cybrxkhan Contributing Member

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    I agree with everyone that adverbs are fine in very small numbers, used sparingly. In general, they get pretty annoying if used enough, and are, in our day and age, generally a clear sign of an amateur writer.

    However, they can be used strategically, particularly if it's to a surprising effect. A couple of bad examples off the top of my head:

    "I love you," he said angrily. [Although 'he screamed' might be better...]
    "I will lop off your head and spit down your neck," she said cheerfully.


    Ultimately, it's a good idea not to use them often. There's nothing inherently bad about them, of course, but be careful if they show up too much in your writing.
     
  21. Youniquee
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    Youniquee (◡‿◡✿) Contributor

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    As everyone has said. Most of the time their redundant. In terms of adverbs, all I use is quickly and slowly. When they are used in small doses they are okay. Once, I read a fanfic with abverbs in almost every sentence, I had to put it down because I felt like I was getting a headache. >.< and please, never do smartsoundingword then -ly, that's what makes it really redundant. Just show by body language or even sometimes, the reader will know. Like, "Go to hell!" Most of the time that's an insult.
     
  22. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    Understand I admit to being the most amateur (was not allowed a pencil in maximum security only since I was transferred to a new prison did I get access to a computer) but for real , 4 real the -ly words are bush league, even the dudes on death row think that kinda writing is amateur.
     
  23. coldu
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    coldu Member

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    Event better ...and concise

    James blushed. "I love you too."
     
  24. Cthulhu
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    Cthulhu Member

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    I do as well, hears why,

    Using cybraxkhan's examples, [not that there's anything wrong with them per say]

    And replacing said with a more evocative word,

    "I love you," he growled. [Looking at it he had a point, screamed would be better.]
    "I will lop off your head and spit down your neck," she laughed.

    It looks much better now.

    And you will notice the loss of the adverbs, and an overall sohortening of the dialogue tag, both good things.

    I think that when at all passable dialogue tags should be removed all together, letting the focus be on the dialogue [obviously this is not always possible]

    I disagree, when I'm reading and I see 'said' I notice, it pulls me out of the story.
    Further when you compare 'said' to other common words, lets say 'asked', you get much more information in the same amount of space [not just Who said what but how they said it as well]

    But dialogue tags should never distract from the dialogue, the best way to do that is to make them as short as possible, and your examples are much longer than a comparable dialogue tag would be. [Not to say that that cannot work, but in the middle of a dialogue is not the place for it, at the start or end it would work fine as well as in cases where there will be no {verble} response to the words.]

    [My thoughts on adverbs, if you're using an adverb it may mean that the word it's modifying is week, and doesn't describe what you want it to, if not adverbs are fine, excepting when the extra word gets in the way]
    Dead on.
     
  25. Cthulhu
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    Perfect example of an evocative dialogue tag. We see who is speaking, and how they are seeking, all in two short words.
     
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