Adverbly yours

by Julie Frayn on April 1, 2012 in  Writing

A habit, or maybe fall back, of many writers is the ease and frequency with which they use adverbs. Especially -ly adverbs. See? I did it again.

After giving my novel out to the first round of beta readers (love you guys!), I went on a search and destroy mission. Seek out any word ending with –ly and re-think it! In dozens of cases, I found an active verb, a better way to describe the scenario without the dreaded -ly adverb.

He softly kissed her forehead. Became He brushed a kiss against her forehead.

She gently touched one scar. Became She grazed one scar with her thumb.

. . . a pink ribbon tied tightly at the elbow. . . . Became a pink ribbon tied at the elbow, cutting into her skin.

“He pays well and carries his own condoms,” Ricki said impatiently. Became “He pays well and carries his own condoms,” Ricki snapped, her arms crossed. She raised one eyebrow.

Guy pulled Amber up from the ground and put his arm around her neck playfully. Became Guy pulled Amber up from the ground and put his arm around her neck in a fake choke-hold. Amber tickled his stomach, trying to break free.

. . . arousing him physically, mentally, emotionally. . . . Became arousing his body, his mind. His heart.

She turned her back to him, snatched another cigarette from the counter and lit it, inhaling deeply. Became She turned her back to him, snatched another cigarette from the counter and lit it, drawing in as much smoke as her lungs would hold.

She gently pushed on his chest. Became She pressed her hand against his chest and eased him back.

Anytime someone spoke or said something quietly it became, mumbled or muttered or said under their breath.

If something shook violently – it quaked.

In yet dozens more cases, the offending adverb was just not necessary. It would insult the reader, smacking them in the face with the obvious.

Slowly oozing – uh, how else do things ooze?

Someone had deliberately maimed him. – yeah, I think deliberateness is implied in “maim”

Immediately ambushed – duh, ambush suggests a certain immediacy, no?

Convulsed uncontrollably – um yeah, I’m in complete control when I convulse.

Mewling pitifully – a mewl is a weak cry, a whimper. Pitiful is implied.

Openly ogled – how else does one ogle?

And most important of all? Any time I found suddenly – I took it out. Even if there was no replacement, almost every sentence it was in worked better without it.

I didn’t get rid of every –ly adverb. At the end of one scene, I closed with:

Then they made love again – profoundly, passionately, repeatedly. Time ceased to matter. Nothing existed but the two of them. No other people, no other sounds, no thoughts, no intrusions into the world they had created between them. Not tonight.

I had already intruded into their private time for too long. They needed to be alone. And these three words, after that scene, roll together just right.

Happily, in my daily world, adverbs are quickly forgiven and hardly even noticed in a professionally worded business letter or hastily dispatched email.

Honestly, sincerely, adverbly yours, Julie


{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Sean P. Farley April 1, 2012 at 10:58 pm

Julie, I heart you, but that wasn’t an attack, that was an ONSLAUGHT! :) I’m teasing. I get it, I totally do. I hadn’t realized how many -ly verbs I’d been using until I let someone I wouldn’t normally read my work give it a look see. The first thing he told me was to be careful with those horrible adverbs. And, after another read-through, I found he was right. I don’t think we’ll ever be happy with our own writing, though – I’ve read of authors who, years after their books were published, read it again and wish they could edit the book again. I guess we’ll never be satisfied! :)


Julie April 2, 2012 at 6:57 am

It’s so true. Even as I snipped bits of my own work for this post, I tweaked! I figure I’ll stop as soon as I send it out to an agent (holding on to the dream!). Then I’m sure there will be more and more edits before it is ever published (still holding on!). But at least the -ly adverbs (and “been” and “-ness” and overuse of “that”) have been wrestled to the ground and brought under control… 😀

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