[Writing Tips] Don’t adverb yourself

Adverbs are clumsy. Adverbs are crutches. You fall back on to adverbs when your verbs are not strong enough. Or your characters are not defined well enough.

Your verbs should be strong. As should the description of your characters.

So improve your verbs. Improve your characters. Don’t adverb yourself.

As usual, let’s look at a couple of ham-handed examples:


He laughs heartily.

Know this. Your character ‘laughs heartily’ because you have not been able to establish yet that your character is the kind of a guy that has a hearty laugh. Otherwise, he would just laugh.

– – –

‘Won’t you ask me out for coffee?’, Tanuja said flirtatiously.

Is your Tanuja a really, really boring girl? Is there a risk that she will say such a flirtatious line as ‘Won’t you ask me out for coffee’ in a non-flirtatious manner? No. Then?
Here, let me improve it.
‘Won’t you ask me out for coffee?’, Tanuja said.
Wow, Tanuja, you are cool. Would you have coffee with me?

– – –

Amit looked forlornly at the couple walking by the lake, hand in hand.

Why would Amit look forlornly at the couple walking by the lake, hand in hand? Because Amit is single, and he wants a girlfriend.
But that’s the gist of your story. You will establish it anyway in your story now, won’t you? They why break the excitement by making him forlorn so early? C’mon, be nice to poor Amit.

– – –

So don’t. Edit your adverbs. In fact, chop them. Chop them all.
You are good. You don’t need stupid adverbs.

About Shom

Shom Biswas is a writer from India. @Spinstripe
This entry was posted in Adverbs, Writing Tips and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to [Writing Tips] Don’t adverb yourself

  1. Sir, your tutorials are fantastic. But sometimes the writer is compelled to cut the description short due to word count limitations. Then how to manage?

    • Shom says:

      Hi Rajeev, welcome to the blog. You can call me Shom, ‘sir’ does not work well for me.
      I have not done too much of ‘words-on-demand’ writing, so am not best suited to answer this – but I will hazard a guess. I have done some business writing and white paper writing, and it seems that you can find a way of fitting your piece into a word limit by letting go of superfluous stuff that does not add to the piece in hand. Even the description – how much of it is needed? Think of yourself as a reader – as a reader, would you want to read the description? If not, then chop-chop.

  2. Many articles I have read gives the recommendation to cut adverbs, but none have explained it as well as you did. Thank you for taking the time to share your opinion. I am on the tail end of finishing my memoir and I know I have included several adverbs in the initial draft. I will need you tip in mind when revising..

  3. Pushp says:

    There is an established notion among writers regarding adverbial constraints. But I feel its highly situational. Sometimes we dont find a better replacement of adverbs. The most basic idea of effective communication should be retained. Also a lot may depend on the genre one choose to write. In case of impactful sub-characters description, adverbs are handy. We need not make a length of discourse with backgrounding, say, for a passing by vendor who is plying for business in a railway station. ” My eyes moved from face to face..from passengers to idly gossiping vendors. But he was nowhere. Suddenly the world seemed inconsequential…”

  4. schillingklaus says:

    No, there is no way you may trick me into refraining from writing adverbs relentlerswsly and shamelessly. Telling is my one true way to go, and I will not be deterred by any of your taste dictatorship.

    • Shom says:

      A dictator needs an army and a people to rule. I have none, nor do yearn for any. If you feel better about a certain way of writing, go on by all means. And I wish you well.

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