Avoid Adverbs At Almost All Costs

The title gives it away, my hatred for adverbs.

What are adverbs? They’re words they modify a verb, add something to it, hence the name. As a blanket rule, writers and readers can look for words ending in -ly. Common adverbs also tend to answer how.

Why do I hate those? They tell; they do not show. They’re unnecessary words that fill precious space. There a few exceptions which I will address.

Think of it this way: don’t tell me the answer is four, just give me two and two or three and one and I promise I’ll get there. I won’t get zero by subtraction or one by division. I won’t get two or even negative two by subtraction, and I won’t get one by division, not even one-third. Writers don’t write to be less than what they are, nor do they write to remain stagnant.
Don’t give me the answers to the elementary problems, even the complex equations; just give me the steps to get there. The result is more rewarding than handing readers everything.

Likewise, in writing, don’t tell me a character’s wife spoke to her husband tiredly or slowly. Show me her drooping eyelids as a half grin settled on her face. Show me her words as they start to lilt and slur.
Don’t tell me a brother yelled at his young sister furiously. It’s repetitive, as yelling expresses anger to begin with. Instead, show his clenched fists as he seethed through gritted teeth.
Don’t tell me a little girl ran quickly to catch up with her mother. Running is quick in itself; running slowly would be jogging or trotting along. It wouldn’t be running.

Are you starting to get the picture? Don’t tell readers what they should know, show them how to get where you want them to be. If an adverb is needed to make a point, then the verb isn’t strong enough. If a verb is strong, then an adverb becomes unnecessary backup.
If a wrestler needs a weapon to fight, he is not strong enough to defeat his opponent with his fists.

Now I did say there were exceptions, as there are with any rule. Adverbs are acceptable, natural even, in dialogue. Humans don’t stop and think to get rid of these words as they speak. Listen to people speak and they’re conversations are loaded with adverbs.
Now, this is different from using them in dialogue tags, as I did earlier. I’m talking in the speech itself, not what’s around it.
“It was really clean!”
“I usually do my homework at night.”
“It looked exactly like this!”
Humans don’t stop and think to use different words, to use the word immaculate instead of really clean, to say you do your homework at night, to say the object resembled something else. It would be unnatural to speak that way all the time, though it might make an interesting character as someone who tries not to use adverbs.

Likewise, the -ly rule isn’t all encompassing, so some adverbs are impossible to avoid. Some include: afterward, already, almost (in the title, ha!), back, even, often, far, quick, fast, rather, hard, slow, here, so, how, soon, late, still, long, then, low, today, more, tomorrow, near, too, never, when, next, where, now, and yesterday.
There are lists of them everywhere, and it’d be impossible to avoid all of them. Now, a number of those above can add the -ly ending to make them obvious, others not.

As a general rule, avoid the adverbs ending in -ly. Avoid the ones that answer how, the ones that tell. Strengthen your verbs, and avoid repetition. Let the readers put two and two together. Give them a complex equation to figure out; it may take time, but they’ll get there and appreciate learning something.


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