Sunday, July 4, 2010

Adverbs: Thumbs Up or Down?

At work, in my CSA garden, we spend first lunch trying to stump each other with “The Word of the Day. Two of my co-workers are Scrabble fanatics. Another is studying to take the Graduate Record Exam in the fall. I write, ergo I am “into” words. We keep a dictionary handy.

Our Webster’s II New College Dictionary defines adverb as: a part of speech that modifies a verb, adjective, or other adverb.

We all use adverbs, but the conventional wisdom for wanna-be, and wanna-stay,-published authors is to eschew them. So, in my narrative paragraphs, I look for active verbs that preclude any need for adverbs.

I also try to use for descriptively-specific adjectives, rather than supporting my adjectives with adverbs like descriptively-specific. When I find I have written, “The dinner service was exceptionally good,” I try to edit to, “Dinner service was superlative.” Unless I was recounting dinner at the White House or 10 Downing Street; then I’d gush effusively, completely forgetting that gush implies effusiveness, and is therefore redundant.

Dialogue is an entirely different ball game. Characters talk like people, and people run the gamut from lyrical thespian, to monosyllabic thug, to my three-year-old granddaughter’s “I go your house, Gramma?”

Eschew and preclude are $10.00 words that probably should be replaced with avoid and prevent. I cannot say whether it is better to speak convincingly or to convince.


  1. Hi,

    Sometimes I think as authors we worry about words more than we should beyond reasonable grammar. Because, after all when writing a novel we are writing to entertain not writing a text book to aid in the process of teaching.

    Unless a novel is written birdseye/godly POV,
    the narration needs to reflect the character POV as well as his/her dialogue mode. Without that he/she will reflect the author's persona.

    Even in thought mode slang and bad grammar may at times play apart in reflecting a character's persona!

    The hardest part of writing is the becoming a one-bit actor and being able to adopt character persona and make for character voice - each and every one in the book - as opposed to author voice

    An old toff - on the whole - thinks and talks differently than a young modern toff!
    Same goes for uncouth lout: age difference the mark on thought and voice.

    Umm, skulk of, methinks. ;)


  2. Then say you will return often, Francine, I beg, and beguile us with your wit and wisdom, for the Lords of contests shout loudly, and the God of publishing looms large.

  3. Ah, those pesky adverbs...I tend to use them a lot.

  4. Personally, I think if you agonise too much over words to use and words not to use, your style and 'voice' can suffer. And what's wrong with adverbs - as long as you're not using them in every sentence, of course? Trying too hard not to use adverbs can make some sentences sound contrived.

  5. Contrived or pretentious. Debra, does your editor want you to limit adverb use? Paula, do you know what Whiskey Creek's adverb stance is? Is it just contest judges who pick on adverbs?

  6. I've not had my editor's comments/corrections etc yet, so don't really know about WCP. But I do know that my friend Margaret uses them in her books, so they're not forbidden LOL.
    I think if we all followed what contest judges say, and what is written in all the million articles etc about 'how to write', we'd be too scared to write anything for fear of breaking one of the supposed 'rules'.
    Last week I bought a 'Writing' magazine (which I rarely do!)and okay, there were a couple of articles which had some useful comments, but the rest were a waste of time, especially the one which said 'It's essential to have an agent in the modern publishing world. You won't get your work looked at without one." Excuse me?? How come I got a contract then?? I have to confess I am very cynical about all these pundits who try to tell us how to write!

  7. It is so difficult to know what to do sometimes. If a word fits you really want to use it, but...adverbs are bad...gets drilled into your head ;-)