Avoiding Adverbs - Why?

If you read many "how to write" books, they encourage you to avoid all adverbs. Why do books and writing tutors all push you to avoid the adverb? And just what is an adverb?

Let's start with the basics. What is an adverb? An adverb is a word which modifies a verb. In the following sentences the adverb is shown in bold.

She walked briskly across the room.
He shouted loudly at the dog.
She quietly spoke to the young child.

In each case the adverb is the word that makes the verb more meaningful. It clarifies just how the verb was performed.

Adverbs can become a "crutch" to help a writer avoid finding the perfect verb in the first place.

Compare this pair of sentences.

The duke walked quickly across the open courtyard.
The duke strode across the open courtyard.

The word "strode" gives the same meaning as "walked quickly" and gives a more powerful visual. Also, because the reader can make their visual image in one word, rather than two, they more clearly see what is going on in their mind.

Imagine your reader's mind is like a person peering through a peephole at a moving train. They can only see one word at a time as they come along in order. As each word comes along, the person builds up their mental image of the action.

So this reader sees:

The - not much image yet.
Duke - OK, a royal guy. What is he doing?
walked - Hmmm, royal guy is moving slowly along.
quickly - Ooops! OK, he's moving along at a faster pace.

You see how giving multiple words can cause confusion in the reader's mind? It makes them have to re-evaluate the scene. This is especially true if you give the verb first and then give the adverb after it.

Itís better to provide single, clear, wonderfully descriptive words that keep your reader engaged in the exact image you are trying to convey. For example:

The - again, not much here.
Duke - royal guy.
strode - interesting, the royal guy is moving with quick purpose somewhere. I wonder what he's doing?

It brings the reader much more fully into the scene.

So for example you could have:

The bully pushed hard at the girl's back. --> The bully shoved the girl's back.
The waves swept noisily onto the beach --> The waves crashed onto the beach.
The widow cried sadly into her handkerchief --> The widow sobbed into her handkerchief.

Yes certainly there will be times that an adverb is simply necessary, and you accept that. However, many times an adverb can be a sign that the verb is a weak one. A stronger verb could do a much better job of moving your story along and engaging the reader. So it's well worth it to examine your adverbs, and see if any can be converted into powerful verbs!

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