It’s no secret that writers have preferences when it comes to the kind of words they like using in their work. Some people like to drown their paragraphs in adjectives, while others would rather use the most complex verbs to describe the simplest of actions. Some people like to be flowery and lyrical in their prose, while others like being sober, and direct. But there’s one thing these groups have in common.
They HATE adverbs.
If you’re familiar with the generic writing advice that’s often thrown around, you’re probably familiar with Stephen King’s quote on the subject, so I won’t bring that up here. But nevertheless, there is much truth to what many of adverb’s detractors (including myself) say.
There is no denying that the vast majority of adverbs are too vague and open to interpretation to create even the plainest of images. There’s simply nothing to entice the imagination when you say “He ran quickly down the hall.” When compared to “He dashed down the hall.” The latter image evokes a concrete picture with the word dash, rather than relying on the abstract notion of what is quick.
But here at QuestingAuthor, I try to see a positive angle to all things (well, [most] things.). So I propose that there are two instances in which the use of an adverb tends to be justifiable.
As I’ve spared no time in mentioning some posts ago, I am in the process of rethinking my prose style from the ground up at the current moment. As a result, I’ve taken a look at basics, (Such as adverbs) and found a new spin on them.
But which these instances, you ask?
Well, let’s take it through baby steps first. For starters, adverbs can be an invaluable tool when it comes to summarizing long periods of time. Where a concrete piece of prose is capable of describing a singular instance with good detail, it is incapable of doing this with a series of instances. If we used concrete prose to describe actions taken over a long period of time, we’d end up with many needless paragraphs.
Suppose you have a character walking through a city and he happens to be in a bad mood. What would take more time? Describing how he turns every corner with a somber look in his eye, how he wades through crowds while keeping his hands tucked in his pocket? Maybe describing things like this would be a good idea in any other scene, but if you want this scene to pass immediately, you shouldn’t use this style.
It’s far better to just say that he sullenly ambled through town. This doesn’t give a concrete image, but evokes a series of possibilities, allowing the reader to think about the many ways that this characters actions could have actually gone down.
The other instance where adverbs tend to be justified is when they fit the rhythm of a particular paragraph. I can’t go too much into detail about this, mainly because this is one of those parts of writing were all rules dissipate into mist and are swept away. But it can’t be denied that some words flow better in sentences than others, and in these occasions, you might find that an adverb might work well.
The reason I mention this was because in my previous style, I avoided adverbs more out of irrationality and pride than anything else. Even when I felt I should use an adverb, I went through painstaking effort to avoid it. Sure, I knew how they could harm my style, but I really only avoided them because it was cool and edgy. And if you learn anything from life, let it be that these are the two worst justifications for doing just about anything.
In the end, we can infer that adverbs with suck in most situations. They are terrible for trying to immerse a reader in a specific instance of the story, and they are almost always piss-poor at conveying emotion.
This does not deny the practical applications they can sometimes have. Namely in the forms of summarizing long stretches of time or when they fit the “lyrical” quality to your prose. The question is, how often do you use adverbs? Do you think there are more circumstances where they can work? Then please tell me in the comments!
As always, this has been the QuestingAuthor. Keep writing, my friends.