Sunday 22 September 2013

Do readers give a **** about adverbs?

It was a dark and stormy night, or was it a wild and windy night? Or perhaps it was just night...

A recent event got me thinking about various anomalies such as adverbs, verbs, nouns, subjunctives and the like and what, in actual fact, are they?

Do readers (and I mean readers, not authors who read - in my mind these are two very different categories of people) actually care if writing is full of them or not?

At this juncture, I must make a confession. While I can spell, and my grammar is relatively okay, it is all pretty inate. By that I mean, it's built in. I can structure a sentence but apart from the 'noun' I couldn't tell you wish was the verb, adverb or whatever. I just know what sounds right and what doesn't.

But why are authors so obsessed with these things? Is it a prerequisite of garnering an elusive publishing contract?

Which made me pose the question, do readers actually give a crap or do they just want to be taken on a journey and enjoy the trip? Do they count how many adverbs the author uses? Or count how many times you use the word just? Before I became a writer, I know I certain didn't give a rats backside.

After a recent reading, it was made apparent to me that my writing is somewhat adverb heavy. Adverbs, for those that like me who needed to Google it, are those cheeky little monkeys that tell us when or how or in what manner something was done.

While they seem to be considered the devil by a large component of the authoring community, in my mind, these descriptive little words are what gives the reader a sense of emotion, place, time.

How do you inject more emotion, more feeling into characters without them?

I'll give you some examples of what I mean...

"I silently stared..."  If this was changed to 'I stared', would readers assume that it was done silently?  One could gasp while staring, scream while staring, talk while staring, mumble while staring.  I would not instantly assume that if one stared, it would be done silently.

"My stomach grumbled viciously..."   Again, would it be assumed that a stomach would grumble viciously?  It is my belief that stomachs may grumble low, perhaps quietly, I don't know. But to indicate the severity of the hunger, I have stated that it grumbled viciously.

As a new writer, I am still learning about the 'craft' of writing and I fear I may fall into the trap of counting adverbs or the number of times I use the word just, then, and or actually, instead of focusing on whether I've written an engaging, memorable image for readers.

But like Goldilock's proverbial porridge, how do you know what is too much, what is not enough, and what is just right? I fear I may never know!


  1. I think the general consensus is that words ending in ing and ly are bad because they tell rather than show. It's all about showing the reader what is happening so they can be there in the moment. Bit different for first person (in my opinion) because the POV is so different. My stomach does growl viciously but am I worried someone might hear? Am I worried about where my next meal is coming from? A few more words on top would show us rather than just telling us.

    As for silently staring? I stared, silent and waiting in the moonlight. I stared, my mouth open, not a word or breath of air escaped me. Silently I stared, I couldn't move or breathe if my life depended on it in that moment.

    I agree that silently staring just doesn't sound right but changing the words around a tiny bit might fix the problem.

    You are doing an amazing job and a few adverbs don't matter at all in the bigger scheme of voice and a great story. But. Lots would be a deal breaker for an editor in most cases. Just too much work to break you of the habit. If you start to watch for it now, it will make it easier in the long run.

    Hope that helps =)
    And PS, I suck at stuff like this too but over the years I've learned a thing or two. It just takes time and perseverance...

  2. Thank you, it's just one of those really frustrating things as a newbie writer, there is so much I just don't know! And I hate not knowing things!

    I really like your way of explaining it, it makes so much more sense. I'm definitely a truckload more aware of it already and I think my writing/editing is slowly starting to reflect it. (Sheesh... even my comment is full of them! gah!!) :D

  3. lol, that's why you have wonderful groups and people to help on the journey. I first started writing seriously about 9 years ago and I'm only just starting to really get a good handle on all of this stuff...