Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Adverbs

I thought I might talk a little about the mechanics of writing for the next few days. First, adverbs.

Adverbs are a roadblock to good fiction writing. They're the words that end in -ly, such as quickly or slowly or angrily. Often, the reason you'll find an adverb in your work is because you've used a weak verb, and it needs that extra word to prop it up. This leads to passive prose, or weaker writing. Less is more! Study this example of adverb-loaded wordiness:

He walked slowly down the beach, thinking sadly about his ex-girlfriend, then angrily threw a rock into the water. (19 words)

Now, we'll prune the words down just by getting rid of those weak verbs and their adverbs:

He trudged down the beach, pining over his ex-girlfriend, then hurled a rock into the water. (16 words)

We've trimmed three words by using stronger verbs that don't need an adverb crutch. These verbs are much more vivid than a slow walk, a sad thought, and an angry toss. That leads to stronger writing! Often when you can say the same thing in fewer words, it's the best choice, and the bonus is, it'll speed up your pacing. You can use adverbs, but consider them as you might a strong spice, and use them sparingly.

Next time: Telling vs. Showing.

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