- from Susan
Adverbs? What could I possibly say to writers about adverbs that hasn’t been said before? Obviously, too much reliance on them is lazy: If the only way a writer knows how to indicate that a character is nervous is to write “nervously,” then that writer needs to read, observe, and think more. But the wholesale rule denying adverbs entrance into a manuscript can lead to verbiage. If I have to indicate the behavior of a briefly noted extra in the background whose action plays only a small part in my scene, do I need to write a whole sentence about the featureless man? “A passing waiter darted a look at me and then at the man with the gun, licked his lips, spun on his heel and headed back toward the kitchen doors.” Nice, but if the gun has been fired three times during that sentence and the waiter is one of a score of extremely nervous witnesses, do I owe the reader a description of the others too? Can he stand for them all, in which case the sentence is worth the space?
These are the decisions writers must make in service to the story, its pacing, the direction they want the reader to be looking in as things happen. A single adverb now and then needn’t feel like a single drink to an AA member, and yet my fingers come to a halt when I’m tempted to type one. Is it really the best solution? Does it derail the showing instantly into telling? Will the reader feel it as an intrusion? Most of the time, I decide the adverb is the cheap way out, and that I have to write a better paragraph, but four or five in a 250-page novel don’t make me feel guilty.
A popular author I know whose novels spill over with adverbs brushes off the case against them, and says the dictum is promoted by snobbish academics looking for a way to undercut people who actually make money from writing fiction. He does make good money. I have to admit, however, that I get to the point at about page 50 in his books where I flinch when yet another one pops up at me. They become noticeable, like a tic, and the more I try to ignore them, the more I become aware of them, even anticipate them apprehensively.
I’ll bet you can find your own examples of successful fiction that uses or eschews this maligned part of speech. Anyone have a sentence you love – or love to hate – in which adverbs play a prominent part?