“Adverbs are Not Your Friends” Except When They…

8-2010 Coeur d'Alene--Alanna's 011

 

“They moved wordlessly to and from the tables they were waiting.”  Hmm.  Is there a single verb you could use to get that idea across?  They sneaked?  No.

I listened to an excellent tape where Stephen King read his own non-fiction book on writing fiction.  At one point he said, “Adverbs are not your friends.”

Yet fiction writers use them effectively sometimes.  I think I may have an idea worth sharing on this.

An adverb that adds something to the verb other than simple modification seems sometimes indispensable.  Maybe the secret rule is that “adverbs should be avoided except where indispensable.”

An example from “Hunger Games” by Collins is, “[They] move wordlessly to and from the table…”.  When your people walk and you want to modify how they’re walking, the books will tell you not to find an adverb.  They don’t want you to say things like, “They moved quickly down the hall.”  They want you to find a stronger verb that means, “moved quickly.”  Like, “they ran down the hall.”  OK, I’ve got no problem with that.  But…

In Collins’ example above, I learned something from, “moved wordlessly.” I noticed that the adverb adds something to the walking that IS NOT about the act of walking.  This may be the key to using adverbs (as opposed to pretending they don’t exist, which is what I’ve been doing for years).

And, of course, being an unpublished hack writer, I’m always right about these sorts of things.

Let me see if I can think of other examples of this new adverb usage principle…

“She diced the eggs mindlessly.”  That works, maybe.

“She diced the eggs rapidly,” does not work because the adverb doesn’t add a new dimension or a new unrelated thought to the verb, “diced.”  Zat make sense?

I remember reading a novel in which the author listed one adverb after another to such an extent that I thought he might have been mocking the how-to-write dogma books that say to avoid adverbs like plague.  I wish I had that quote now so I could look at it again and see if, perhaps, each adverb added a new unrelated thought to the verb…

Like, “He walked foolishly, unknowingly, wordlessly, and routinely toward the ice cream box in the refrigerator.”  Genuine hack, but you get the point.

I hope my new insight is correct because I get frustrated writing obediently in the straight-jacket of  current dogma and trends.

M. Talmage Moorehead