In Defense of the Lonely Adverb [post 2 of 3]

The much maligned adverb has many detractors. I haven’t really been able to figure out why, other than from what I hear is the adverb represents laziness on the part of the author. Me? I think they’re acting snobbishly. Heh. Yeah, I did that on purpose. Here’s the thing: I’ve always felt that all words serve a purpose. Otherwise, why would they have been created & taught to us? Some passages could use adverbs and our readers won’t object. Hell, they may not even fecking notice. *gasp!* Say it ain’t so! Never. It is very true that most readers won’t notice your adverbs. How do I know? I never noticed them until I became an author and had folks point them out to me.

I’ll let author Robert Masello explain with an excerpt from his novel “Robert’s Rules of Writing” (I love that title for some reason):

“When it comes to writing, there is perhaps no more vilified part of the language than adverbs. Even Stephan King in his book On Writing declares, “The adverb is not your friend.” Like many writers, he considers them weak and weaslelly, words that cling to other words – verbs, adjectives and even other adverbs – draining them of impact, or just cluttering up the page.”

Okay, that’s a pretty strong argument against them. No writer wants their work cluttered with useless words, right? What else does he have to say about it?

“What drives most opponents of the adverb up the wall is the fact that these adverbs are being used – in their heated opinion – to do the work that a properly chosen verb, for instance, could and should have done on its own. For instance, instead of saying a soldier ran wildly, why not say he charged? Instead of saying the horse rose up defiantly, why not say it reared up? Isn’t that easier and more to the point? Well, yes and no. In a lot of cases, it’s true the right verb can do the work on its own, but sometimes it can’t. And I would submit that adverbs add a lot of leeway and variety that we wouldn’t otherwise have.”

Oh? Could you give us examples, sir?

“Take that horse rearing up for example – couldn’t he have reared anxiously, out of fear? And wouldn’t that have been misunderstood if that “defiantly” not been thrown in for additional clarification? In the hands of a better writer, maybe it would have been entirely clear why the horse was rearing up – maybe we would have known from previous pages this was one brave, unruly horse. But then again, maybe not.”

Okay. That’s a good point. Maybe some authors use adverbs for training wheels, or guidelines, for their readers. Maybe they aren’t certain things are clear enough and want to make sure their readers know where the author is going, or trying to say. I would also add this: Consider the solider from earlier. For me, as a reader, saying he charged is vastly different from he ran wildly. This is because to me, saying “charge” implies the solider is maintaining his discipline and training. I would accept that at the beginning of a battle, or one where he was winning. I wouldn’t expect, or want, that if the soldier’s squad is being routed. “The soldier ran wildly” implies to me that he’s scared and running for his life. Something didn’t go right.

So, do you think Robert’s book would be useful to you? You can buy it here. I own it an use it a lot.