1. john murphy

    john murphy New Member

    Sep 27, 2011
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    Adverb judo?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by john murphy, Dec 19, 2012.

    Can anyone suggest a methodology to get around the dependence on adverbs?

    I have used them liberally in the past, they were just so convenient, succinct, and on the nose. They helped me enhance the boring "said" to depict precisely how something was said, like angrily, lustfully, sadlly.

    Books on writing say "yes" to adverbs that change the meaning, such as "she smiled sadly", but "no" to adverbs that enhance, "she smiled joyfully". But, dang it, there's a zillion ways a person could smile, and an adverb catches exactly the emomtion I want to put behind the physical act of smiling in one word.

    I know they are a crutch. I know the rule is "show, don't tell", but I'm affraid the writing of and reading of the story will become laborious. In passages I have revised, I find I must replace one adverb, such as "angrily" with twelve words (or more) to "show" actions people would visually interpret as being in anger.

    Does anyone have a methodology they employ with good effect?
  2. Mckk

    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

    Dec 30, 2010
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    "said angrily" could easily be replaced with "shouted", "yelled", "bellowed", "screamed", "fumed" or action tags such as: "He glared", "He slammed his fists on the table", "He threw the mug across the room", "He looked like he could kill somebody" - the options are endless. The key is - be creative.

    And I like what Cog says often. I don't remember it word for word now so others or Cog himself can correct me - but he often says: the key is finding the perfect verb - one perfect verb says what a thousand words would. He said it much better than me, but you get the idea.

    "said angrily" does not "hit it on the nose" as you think. It is actually very vague. Do I know what angry looks like? Well, for me I might envision a harsh voice, for another he might think the character's shouting, still for another he might imagine the character as agitated. If I really wanted to paint a good picture, I would use verbs, I would use body language. Using twelve words is not necessarily a bad thing. Less is only more if the "more" tells you too much, more than you'd want or care to know. But you should use as many words as you need to tell the perfect story, paint the perfect picture - and perhaps the perfect number of words for it is 10, perhaps it's 100 - it depends.

    Sometimes adverbs are good - but it is often only an easy way out.

    Adverbs are an easy read - I see it often in chick lits. Chick lits often contain terrible writing but at the same time it can often be a relaxing, feel-good read - I particularly like it if I just want to switch off. But if I were looking for a good story, I would not turn to such writing. So think about your audience - for some genres, it might not be such a concern.
  3. Ian J.

    Ian J. Active Member

    Nov 27, 2012
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    London, England
    I think the argument against using adverbs is that there is probably a single verb that can do the job better than a verb-adverb combination. You could use 'grinned' instead of 'smiled joyfully' for instance. Occasionally you might need to resort to verb-adverb, but always try to find a single verb first.
  4. Cogito

    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

    May 19, 2007
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    Massachusetts, USA
    Select better verbs.

    And resist the urge to qualify dialogue tags with adverbs. They rarely improve the dialogue depiction.
  5. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

    Jul 11, 2010
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    Near Los Angeles
    Dialogue tags are elements of writing that should almost never be noticed by the reader. You can get away with "she said angrily" or the like every once in a while, but don't make a habit of it. If every dialogue tag has an adverb attached, they start calling attention to themselves in all the wrong ways. If you find yourself writing something that can hardly even be read aloud (e.g. "he blubbered shamefacedly") then REVISE! You're inadvertently starting to write comedy.

    It's best - most particularly for inexperienced writers - to omit the adverbs from dialogue tags everywhere you can. Nobody will object to (or even notice) "John said" or "Mary asked." Put the necessary expression into the dialogue itself - the words the characters actually say - rather than in the dialogue tag.
    1 person likes this.
  6. mammamaia

    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

    Nov 21, 2006
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    Coquille, Oregon
    ...it's easy enough to do... like this:

    can be:
    "she smiled joyfully"
    can show her joy this way:
    neither of those solutions took 12 words... all other adverbs can be done away with in similar fashion...

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