A Sprinkling of Adverbs: 5 Appropriate Uses

 Adverbs. People hate them. Stephen King hates them. Writing bloggers all across the Internet hate them. Some of my writing professors even hated them. Adverbs are the cockroach of language, apparently. But what's the big deal? Why do adverbs have such a bad rap when they have a purpose and place just like any other part of language? Of course, like any other type of word, you don't want to rely to heavily on adverbs. No "Susie cautiously walked lightly to the poorly lit, haphazardly perched treehouse" type sentences, please. Four adverbs in one sentence is just a bit much. But a story won't suffer from a sprinkling of adverbs here and there. I'd venture to say a well-used adverb enhances writing rather than takes away. And what makes an adverb well-used?

  1. It clarifies rather than confuses. Some types of adverbs are particularly guilty of contributing to vague language. Examples: sort of, kind of, somewhat, to some extent. All of these are adverb phrases that don't do much for a sentence. If you must qualify with an adverb, try one that targets your actual meaning rather than a vague idea. 
  2. It's necessary. In writing, there are times in which an adverb changes the entire meaning/feeling of a sentence. It may be necessary to use an adverb to show an action the way you want it to be shown. For example, you might say, "Timmy stared at Sally." But is Timmy staring longingly? Angrily? Hopefully? Sometimes, as we all know, that matters. Of course, there's always a way to make a sentence adverb-free—"Timmy stared at Sally, eyes wide with fear." or something of the sort— which brings us to the next point.
  3. It's efficient. There may be a hundred different ways to say the same thing, but the best one to choose is the one that streamlines the readability of your work. Sometimes that involves an adverb. Perhaps you have four adverb-less sentences already, and you need a snappy alternative for sentence number five. Whatever the case, don't be afraid to use an adverb if you need to.
  4. It's right. Occasionally, as writers, there are things that just sound "right." We may not be able to explain it, but we know that a sentence or a word is simply meant to be. If an adverb is what's right, it's right. Don't let conventional writing "rules" hold you back.
  5. In dialogue. I implore you: please use adverbs in your dialogue. Forget all the points above and just use them, even if they're vague, inefficient, unnecessary and wrong. Why? Because humans often say things that are vague, inefficient, unnecessary and wrong. Hardly anyone speaks like a narrator all the time. For dialogue to be effective, it must be real. And real people say "kind of." Real people don't say things like, "Timmy stared at Sally, eyes wide with fear." So please, when your character is having a conversation, use adverbs at will, just as you would in life. Make it believable.

How do you feel about adverbs? Useful tool or Language Cockroach? Let me know what you think!

Today's Prompt: Write a one to two page story entirely without the use of adverbs. Include at least one conversation in your story.

Happy Writing!