In working to improve my writing I have found the advice ‘Never use adverbs’ in many places. Initially [sic] I didn’t follow this up but I have since found that many editors and successful authors such as Stephen King (a good piece here) explain why it should be considered.
Having since read a number of articles, my initial, arrogant ‘I will ignore this rule’ has turned into some understanding; in part this stems from the ‘show don’t tell’ school of writing and marks one out as a novice writer, or at least in general. It also encourages lazy prose as well.
I decided to take a piece of my own writing and run it through the ‘no adverbs’ test. How did it perform?
A small piece
I wrote a short story for a competition (which I came nowhere in – was it the adverbs?) and had already re-read and corrected three times. I did a simple check for adverbs by searching for ly and found 21 examples in a mere 1972 words! This is more than 1% of the text! On an initial scan two of them were the difficult adverb only and one of these cases might be used as a conjunction.
I spent 20 minutes weeding out these adverbs and now have only two left and both of these are used in speech which I think is defensible. It does tell me that my prose suffers from being too chatty as though I am speaking to the reader. This can work but does mean the distinction between the body of a story and speech can be blurred.
I also found I was prone to using adverbs of time — ‘nearly an hour’ being an example.
I was amused (and I write amusingly first!) to find two other mistakes in the text and my short story is now 2004 words. In future I will do a pass for adverbs before submitting anything!
What do you think? Are you conscious of the use of adverbs? Do you agree or disagree? Let me know!