Grammar Woes: The Truth About Adverbs



Grammar Woes:
The Truth About
Adverbs


“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one in your lawn, it looks pretty and unique." --Stephen King


This is well meant advice but I've noticed as of late how the #WritingCommunity has run wild with it, taking it at times as an ultimatum. I'm weighing in here today to discuss the truth behind adverbs in creative writing.


Myth 1: King's quote means don't use adverbs
If you read the meme below, the quote is out of context and it does sound like he is telling writers to never use adverbs in their writing, but that is what happens when you read a snippet out of context. See the above quote as it was meant to be read: "To put it another way, they're like dandelions. If you have one in your lawn, it looks pretty and unique" (King). Here the quote is saying one here and there can be beautiful, but if they are all over, some should be weeded out. So King is not actually saying NEVER use them, but to do so sparingly.



Myth 2: Adverbs show inferior writing
If you use adverbs you are not a poor writer, but if you heavily rely on them, as King points out, you might want to look into rewording things to improve. The entire adverbs are evil mentality stems from them sometimes telling the reader something instead of showing. Some writers hate the "show don't tell" slogan, but as a reader picturing something is so much more enriching than being told.

Example: She said angrily, "I don't like you."    versus 
With her fists balled up and her eyes glimmering with fiery rage, she said, "I don't like you."

This is what King is referring to. By telling writers adverbs are bad, he was trying to get more out of them as writers.

Truth
Adverbs have a time and a place. Should we think about them and try to avoid them? Perhaps, it depends if you naturally over or under use them. I use them a lot just to get the mood down around dialogue, notoriously using them in dialogue tags which I know is a big no-no. I do make a note to go through and revise the passages. My publishers usually catch more that I miss. The point is, think about them, note your usage of them, but don't let it stifle your writing process. For me, this is a revision and editing concern.

What other well-meaning but abused advice should we discuss next?



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