18.1.11

Dear Fictician: What's so bad about adverbs?

Dear Fictician,

Why do adverbs have such a bad wrap? They're words, after all.

Sincerely,
Ardently Defending Adverbs


Dear Confused,

First of all, fun fact: it's a 'bad rap,' the etymology hailing from a poorly cobbled song, rather than a spoiled sandwich.

The thing about adverbs is that verbs are the most perfect form of writing. Verbs are active and carry character and plot forward. Starving oneself from adverbs encourages the writer to use more specific and efficient verbs. Using those precise and cutting verbs is important; it discourages the passive, the over-dependence on IS/WAS/WERE.

The writing is cleaner. It breathes. And really, if you need adverbs to supplement dialogue, your reader may be snoring. This is telling:

"I hope you're right," she said anxiously.
"I am," he said confidently.
"This wine," a waiter rudely pushed a bottle between them. "Is a fine 2005."

See? Nothing is added. We're told something about their mindsets which could be pretty well inferred even if this riveting scene were presented in script form. Minimalism may be best. The alternative is showing, and it is quite possible to show too much:

"I hope you're right," she said, wringing her napkin as if it were the neck of a remarkably resilient chicken.
"I am." He patted her twitching hands with his meaty palm.
"This wine," a waiter dropped the bottle between them. It shattered. "Was a fine 2005."

Anyway, Ardently, writing is an imperfect medium in all forms. Adverbs are just extra boring. And you don't want to be boring, do you?
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