Thursday, August 03, 2006

Writer Tip #9 -- The Dreadful, Dreaded Adverb

Jordan quickly ran across the floor, deftly taking the safety off his gun. He paused suddenly and swiftly dropped to the ground, carefully bringing his gun up to eye level. He could now plainly see the leader of the mob, the portly Mr. Mafioso, as he surreptitiously held out a suitcase to a figure that mysteriously stayed in the shadows. Jordan blinked rapidly as he saw the ring that adorned the hand that femininely took the suitcase. He knew that ring. He bought that ring. It was Adrianna!

I’m not an adverb purist in the sense that I will never use one. I think they’re just fine, in moderation. I also think that if you can rephrase the sentence so the adverb is eliminated, more power to you. But as we can see in the example above, adverbs can be very overused. And they are, most of the time.

The trouble with adverbs is that often, they are used as the easy way out. If you can’t think of a way to describe the character running quickly, just say quickly and be done with it. But far too often, the easy way becomes the only way, and the overuse of adverbs shows the author to be lazy and unimaginative.

Let’s revisit the scene above. With a bit of tweaking, I think we can make it much better.

Jordan’s breath came in spurts as he raced across the floor, taking the safety off his gun with practiced fingers. He came to an abrupt halt at a sound up ahead and dropped to the ground. He brought the gun up to eye level, hoping he wouldn’t have to use it.

He got his first full look at the rotund Mr. Mafioso as the leader of the mob held out a suitcase to a figure who remained hidden in the shadows. The hand that reached out to grasp the handle was feminine, and Jordan caught a glimpse of light reflected from the ring she wore. He knew that ring. He bought that ring. It was Adrianna!

You’ll notice that I took out all the adverbs, and instead used more immediate action words. I also inserted more emotion to give the impression of tension without saying “tensely.” The passage still isn’t perfect; it needs a good edit, but we can already see that it’s better.

I challenge you to go through your current manuscript and remove as many adverbs as you can. You shouldn’t stand on your head to keep from using one if it would require major reworking, but if you can substitute a better word or series of words, do it. You’ll show your command of the English language to better advantage and give yourself the mark of a seasoned professional.

In summary, if you can get rid of an adverb, do it. Rephrasing can often bring the scene more life and vitality, as well as making it more interesting. You’ll be regarded as more of a professional when you eliminate your adverbs and make your word choices more creative.

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