It’s an adverb, Sam. It’s a lazy tool of a weak mind

–Casey Shuler, Movie "Outbreak", 1995

Be vewy vewy quiet, I’m hunting advewbs

So. Adverbs. I don’t know what to say about them other than that I hate them. Every ecosystem needs the bottom-feeders, the worms that excrete waste that nourishes the soil that grows the grass that feeds the deer that feed the wolves … and so on. Adverbs are the bottom-feeders. There are a great many sentences that cannot be expressed without the use of an adverb, but I will do my utmost to avoid those sentences at all costs.

When I am writing, I try to avoid the use of adverbs entirely (see that? An adverb snuck in. Nasty little bastard). If I stopped what I was doing to break the flow every time I saw an adverb, I would never finish my work.

That said, one of the first things I do when going back over my draft the first time is hunt down adverbs and kill them. I murder, slaughter, and savage them without mercy. With few exceptions, every time you see an adverb, what you are really looking at is a weak verb choice.

You can replace “He slowly leaned against the wall” with “He sagged against the wall”. The second sentence is not only shorter, but sagged gives you so much better of a picture of what the character is doing. Replace “He painstakingly aimed the bow” with “He took his time aiming, knowing he only had one shot at this.” Sometimes the presence of an adverb means the entire sentence may have been weak.

Surely (see what I did there?) not everyone disapproves of adverbs with as much vitriol as I do, but I dare anyone to show me a sentence with a truly strong verb choice that can be made better by slapping an adverb in there. Go on, take a minute. Think about it. If you find one, post it in the comments below and I will make sure to try and work a similar sentence into my novel to pay homage to this rare gem of a sentence.

What about in action scenes? Those have to be better with adverbs, right? People slash their swords viciously and quickly and they kill opponents brutally and stomp victoriously on the heads of their defeated foes. No, no, no!

Compare “He cut cleanly through his neck” with “He severed his head”. What about “Kormak stomped victoriously on his opponent’s stomach” with “Kormak stomped on his opponent’s stomach, wiping the manure from his heel off on the man’s crotch.” The second sentence not only takes the adverb out, but uses a modifier to add hints as to the nature of Kormak’s character in a very short sentence. By passing over my work just once in search of useless adverbs, I have often been able to tighten the story and my characters as an added side-effect.

The moral of the story? Adverbs are necessary in some situations, but for every one you find in your story, see if you can cut it and replace the original verb with a much stronger one. You may be surprised at how much improvement you get can from a single adverb hunt through your draft.

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