Stressing Adverb Use In Your Fiction

This is another flaw most writers have: misplacing adverbs and misusing or stressing them. Think of fiction writing as acting in a play — you want to show, not tell. Remember that, show, not tell. The example below shows a sentence with regular adverb use.

ex. The man dodged the bullet swiftly. 

Don’t get me wrong, adverbs are good to use sometimes. You can’t always be descriptive in place of adverbs. Let’s try the example without telling, but showing.

ex. The man veered to the right fast as thought, dodging the bullet without breaking concentration. 

Do you see the difference? Use adverbs sparingly. Here are a few more examples exchanging adverbs with description.

ex. The small boy ran quickly.

ex2. The small boy sprinted down the hall.

ex. The man stared dejectedly at the wall.

ex2. The man stared at the wall, a trace of a frown on lips, his hand resting on his forehead.

I’ve noticed many people struggle with this issue, so I’m going to be harsh. Using adverbs in place of description can be the lazy way out. Use adverbs only where description sounds silly, or there is no accurate description for the adverb selected. 

Let’s review this now that you’ve got a taste of right and wrong. 

Adverbs describe how a verb is being carried out.

ex. The dog barked playfully.

ex. The dog barked fiercely.

Without adverbs, you don’t know how the dog is barking. Without description, you don’t know why the dog’s barking, or what he’s doing while he’s barking. Examples with description below.

ex. The dog barked, his tail wagging, eyes gleaming for a chance to play.

ex. The dog barked, teeth bared into a vicious snarl, its tail stiff with anger.

Have you gotten a taste of the difference now? Which is more exciting to read? Using description in place of adverbs may seem a bit harder, but it’s worth it, both for you and the reader.

1. The reader enjoys your writing more. 

2. You publish your book to the editor and he accepts it. An editors worst nightmare is seeing a good book — an attracting title, good material and excellent potential, only to see the writer only told, not showed.

You want to show, not tell. Stressing this is absolutely necessary  I want you guys to have the best instruction possible. In writing, you either become a good writer, or you don’t become a writer at all.



One thought on “Stressing Adverb Use In Your Fiction

  1. The bottom line is that you must be a good, strong, descriptive writer, who uses adverbs when they are appropriate, not a writer who removes all “ly” words (ostensibly ignoring the rest of the adverbs) because some other writer said it was a “rule”. Nice article. Thanks.

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