Relax, it’s just an adverb!

November 2, 2010

I’m going to confess it right now: I like adverbs. I realize this makes me a social pariah in writer circles. I’ve seen it time and time again, on all different kinds of ‘writing tips’ sites, how much writers dislike the -ly words, advising things like:

Use adverbs sparingly–or, better yet, not at all!

Adverbs can’t do anything a good verb couldn’t do!

Adverbs are the mark of an unskilled and lazy writer!

Boo, shame on you, adverbs! And shame on you writers who use more than 1 adverb! Boo! Hiss! Boo!

Do a google search for ‘writing tips-adverbs’ and you’ll see what I mean…

However, like all other writing advice, I tend to take this with a grain of salt. My attitude is certainly more relaxed than others would have it.

While I don’t think every sentence needs an adverb, neither do I think we need to avoid them as if they were publishing poison; a serious offense worthy of the Grammar police. Yes, every word you lay down in your novel should be there ‘for a reason’. Yes, examine your word choices and and choose judiciously. But some of those words you choose can be adverbs, for gods sake! They won’t bite!

Would everyone please just relax!?!

Personally, I love to experiment with adverbs. In my last writing session alone, I tried out these delicious morsels:

firmly, testily, emphatically, smoothly, wearily

These are all good words, to my mind. Am I going to keep them all? I don’t know. It’s only a first draft. Maybe I’ll change them in re-write. Or maybe I’ll keep them. I like them, frankly. I think they have *pizazz*.

I’ve also got a prissy Regency-era narrator speaking in my WIP. She likes adverbs. She also says ‘quite’ a lot and speaks in exclamation! (Another big no-no, apparently. One writing tip I once read suggested only 1 exclamation point per novel! Imagine! Only one! Ha! Ha! Ha!)

Do I sound defensive? Yes, I guess I am! I am defending the adverb (and the exclamation point and the word ‘quite’) from eventual extinction! Use them, damn it! Use your adverbs! Exclaim away! Be ‘quite’ rebellious! Go for it, gleefully! Joyfully! Judiciously! Select one of those dusty adverbs squandering away on the top shelf, rescue it from dereliction, give it a shampoo, cut and a blow dry and see how it sparkles! Go on, give it a try!

I’ve also got bucketfuls of exclamation marks to give away, free! Sprinkle those amongst your prose like little fairy gumdrops, why don’t you? Just for the heck of it! See what it’s like!

(God, sometimes I hate reading ‘writing tips’, don’t you? Thou shalt, thou shalt not… They get my back up. Well, I guess now my nose has been thoroughly thumbed in that direction…)

PS. How about you? What’s your take on adverbs: do you think they’re evil incarnate or something more benign? Please leave your comments below!


  1. Honk!

    I like adverbs, too. They are easy to abuse, but that’s where the skill comes in: knowing when it is just enough.

    I’m not going to banish them from my work. If there’s a better verb, yeah, I’ll use it. But sometimes only an adverb will do. My favorites: only and just. (Just great, only an adverb 😀 )

    • Yay! I’m not the only one! I was feeling like the lonely ‘pro adverb’ girl in the corner, facing off against the rest of the world…

      Thanks for dropping by and *honking*! 🙂

      Julie J.

  2. You are not alone. Adverbs have their place. I just wrote an article about writing myths this afternoon and the adverb issue was included. The problem is that lazy writers do abuse adverbs, scattering them all over the place as though they were confetti at a wedding.

    Using an adverb when there is a better option, a stronger verb, a more detailed description, etc. is lazy. But using it because it fits and makes sense isn’t lazy at all. As J said, it’s in knowing when to use them and how often. Skill. It’s a wonderful thing, and you shouldn’t feel guilty or lazy, because from what I’ve read on your blog, you seem to have some of that elusive skill that the adverb-abusers do not.

    • I look forward to reading your blog about writing myths!

      I also like hearing that the judicious use of adverbs is a *skill*, an ability to be applauded, which is so different from the other opinion out there (boo! hiss! bad writer using adverbs!).

      Thanks for dropping by!
      Julie J.

  3. I never used to notice them while reading, but now they jump out at me! I try very hard not to use them, and usually succeed.

    • I have become quite self conscious of adverbs lately and I can’t figure out if that’s good or bad! I think my “judicious use” of them implies a certain level of consciousness, but I don’t want to cringe every time I hear/use an -ly word either!

      Hence, my mission to make the -ly more acceptable and less cringe worthy! So that perhaps we can accept an adverb every now and then in a more relaxed frame of mind… 🙂

      Thanks for dropping by!
      Julie J.

  4. Most writing advice is directed toward beginners, and aimed at eliminating beginner mistakes. Skilled writers can and should use every tool in their toolkit. As Jane Friedman says, “There Are No Rules.” Writing is an art form, and artists can do any d@mn thing they please, as long as it works. (Caveat: The audience decides what works, not the artist.)

    • Yes, thank you! I think you have articulated what I’ve been feeling…that there should be room for exploration, experimentation (including a few adverbs!), without feeling like your going to be caught by the writing police, and as long as it works.

      And you are right, the audience decides that.

      Thanks for dropping by!
      Julie J.

  5. […] reworking sentences and, as much as I don’t like it…losing most of the ADVERBS. (See ‘Relax, It’s Just an Adverb‘ for my thoughts on the much maligned […]

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