“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
–Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
“Jenn is certainly in a hurry this morning,” I think to myself as I watch my friend come racing through my door. “Good morning, Jenn,” I say. Jenn grabs the coffee pot from the counter and says, “Let’s sit on the deck this morning. It’s such a beautiful day. I have a problem and an important question to ask you.” I follow along behind her with my tea cup, wondering what’s going on.
We sit down at the table on the deck and Jenn sighs in apparent exasperation. “Jenn, ask away,” I say. “Oh, Rosemary,” she says, “I am having a hard time with a story I am writing. I am using one of the text editors you can buy and it keeps pointing out to me that I am using too many adverbs in the story. I don’t know how to write my story without them. They seem to make my story have more meaning. But, they must be a bad thing.” She continues, “Do you have this problem?”
I laugh because I have certainly had this problem although probably more in the past than in the present. “Jenn, the first person that ever pointed out to me that I use too many adverbs was my friend, Ed, who has kindly edited a lot of my work for many years. I know what you mean when you say they seem to add emphasis and meaning, but I have come to the conclusion we are fooling ourselves about that.” Jenn asks me why.
I tell Jenn that I have read Stephen King’s book, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, at least three times and I showed her the quote above. King dislikes the use of adverbs intensely since all they really do is modify verbs, other adverbs, and adjectives. You can almost always spot them as they usually, but not always, end in -ly. King states that the use of the adverb is the mark of a timid writer. The writer who is afraid she is not getting her point across.
For example, consider this sentence. “She put the pot on the stove firmly.” “Firmly” is an adverb used to emphasis a point. Instead, what about writing the sentence like this: “She slammed the pot on the stove.” I think the sentence without the adverb sounds better.
King makes his point with dialogue. If this is a line of dialogue: “Don’t do that,” he said abruptly, then abruptly is the adverb. King, along with authors like Larry McMurtry, believe in the word “said.” That sentence should read, “Don’t do that,” he said. He thinks the sentence should stand on its own because the surrounding story should be strong enough so the reader will understand its context.
Jenn says that I make some good points and she thinks she will buy Mr. King’s book. She wants to make her stories stronger as I do.
Jenn finishes her coffee and gets up to leave and get on with her day as we continue to do what writers do — talk about writing. She thanks me for telling her about Stephen King’s book and I thank her for helping me clarify the argument for fewer adverbs in my mind. It’s been a good #weekendcoffeeshare morning!
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