Writing 101 – Day 8 Death to Adverbs

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Go to a local café, park, or public place and report on what you see. Get detailed: leave no nuance behind.

Thoughtful writers create meaning by choosing precise words to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind. As you strive to create strong imagery, show your readers what’s going on; avoid telling them.

Today’s twist: write an adverb-free post. If you’d rather not write a new post, revisit and edit a previous one: excise your adverbs and replace them with strong, precise verbs.

The sin of telling often begins with adverbs. Author Stephen King says that, for writers, the road to hell is paved with adverbs:

The adverb is not your friend.

Adverbs…are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind….With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.

Instead of using adverbs as a crutch, rely on strong verbs to convey emotional qualities that imbue your writing with nuance, allowing the reader to fire up their imagination. Consider, for example:

“She walked proudly out the door.”

Remove the adverb “proudly” and replace it with a strong verb to denote how she walked:

She strutted out the door.

She sashayed out the door.

She flounced out the door.

Each example connotes the emotion with which “she” moved, creating a more vivid picture than “proudly” ever could.

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The restaurant was busy, only we could decide to go for steak on Father’s Day, of course neither one of us marks this day, so it was only by chance I realised. The plan was to do the Garden Centre shopping first and miss the lunchtime rush. It worked, well we got a table, the restaurant was still packed!

The man sitting on the table behind us was mid-sixties, his skin was the colour of tan leather and he had some fading old blue tattoos, the sorts you see sailors with in fiction. He didn’t look that impressed by either the food or the company, his wife (I presume) and daughter. His wife spent the first ten minutes jumping up to go and read the specials board to him as he frowned over the top of his glasses, perhaps he was ill or in pain and not just a grumpy old man forced out of his armchair on Sunday afternoon.

He hadn’t dressed up for the occasion, wearing an old, worn out, faded polo short and khaki coloured trousers, the sort you find in mail order catalogues, he had scuffed brown shoes on and nylon socks. He shuffled his legs under the table and then sat with his knees bent, his feet by the legs of the chair. His hair was fine and thinning on top, it was mousey brown.

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