I read a post on Facebook recently where someone asked, “So what’s the big deal with adverbs?” There were numerous comments that said that using adverbs in writing was no big deal. There were even a few somewhat snarky comments about writers who eschew the use of them. I know writers who will do anything within their power to avoid the use of adverbs. I also know writers who think nothing of having fifteen or twenty of them on a page. I don’t think either extreme makes a lot of sense. Writing is never an all-or-nothing deal. So why the big issue over this particular part of speech more so than any other? Good question. I happen to be among the group of writers who don’t like using adverbs, and I’ll explain why.
Just as with all other parts of speech, adverbs have their place. I’ve had someone ask me why I hate adverbs so much. In truth, I don’t hate them. That’s sort of ridiculous, honestly! (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Sometimes adverbs are necessary to provide detail or clarity, but many times, they become the cop-out, the lazy writer’s way of adding detail or clarity. It’s unfortunate, but many otherwise talented writers fall into the trap of relying on adverbs instead of pushing their writing to a better level. That doesn’t mean that you should never, ever, under any circumstances use an adverb, but rather that they should be used in limited doses.
First, you have to understand what an adverb does. An adverb modifies (adds to the meaning of) a verb, such as “The woman sang loudly.”
An adverb can also modify another adverb: “The woman sang very loudly.” And they modify adjectives: “The dog was really cute.”
So, yes! They are very handy little parts of speech, and they definitely have a place in writing. So why all the hubbub? It’s easy for adverbs to be overused. They get put in places where they aren’t necessary, and they take up space where better word choices could be.
The word “slowly” is unnecessary, because how do you sip? Wouldn’t a fast sip be considered slurping? In this case, the writer needs to consider what else is happening. Is the writer trying to set a mood? Is the writer just filling in time? If more detail is necessary, what kind of detail needs to be present for the reader to better understand this part of the story? It may be that this scene doesn’t need anything more because it’s not that important. Either way, the word “slowly” just doesn’t belong.
Here’s an example where the adverbs are just lazy writing: “He stared longingly into her eyes as she lifted her chin gracefully toward him. “
There’s so much more that could happen with this. There is emotion and intensity waiting to happen, but this sentence falls flat because the adverbs prevent the reader from understanding at a deeper level. Would removing these adverbs and replacing them mean more words? Of course, but unless you’re writing with a very strict word limit, that’s not a problem. In this case, adverbs are restricting the moment and limiting the reader’s enjoyment. What writer wants to do that?
Sometimes an adverb can be useful. If a writer needs to set up a scene and move through the information quickly, then the adverb short cut isn’t a bad idea. But the problem comes when these short cuts become the norm, and the page becomes flooded with them to the point the reader is left with an uninteresting experience.
Writers typically try not to overuse any word because it creates an awkward experience for readers. Over using any word, but especially adverbs, cheats the reader and limits the effectiveness of the story. What’s wrong with adverbs? Absolutely nothing, unless you abuse them.