What's Up With the Adverb?

 Today I give you the often hilarious Deana Barnhart. If you check out her blog, you'll not only be entertained, but inspired. Don't miss her Gearin' Up to Get An Agent Blogfest in July. You'll learn a ton of great information.

 What's Up With the Adverb? by Deana Barnhart

I didn't see a thing wrong with adverbs until recently when I submitted my work into a couple of writing contests.  I'm happy to say I placed third in one and top twenty in another but much of my negative feedback had to do with adverbs.  Can I tell you how sad this makes me.  I have loved peppering my writing with 'ly' words.  They have been a part of my life since grade school.  I suppose that's where they needed to stay.

So why are adverbs such backstabbers?

Mark Twain once said, "Adverbs are the tool of the lazy writer."

Huh?  Well, let's take a closer look and see why.

The Encarta World English Dictionary states that an adverb is:
  1. modifier of verb or adjective: a word that modifies a verb, an adjective, another adverb, or a sentence, e.g. "happily," "very," or "frankly".
So basically you use an adverb to spice up a weak word.  For example: "She tightly closed her eyes."  The verb "closed" isn't strong enough so you pop in "tightly" to better describe it.

What would happen if you used a verb with more zing from the start negating the need for an adverb all together.  How about this instead: "Her eyes slammed shut."  Bam!  Just by changing the verb from "closed" to "slammed" you instantly get a picture of what is going on and it isn't as wordy, which adverbs tend to bring about in writing.

Another problem when using adverbs too often is the risk of telling the story rather than showing it (another big no no we will discuss later).  You want the reader to feel like they are right there in the action with the characters, not on the sidelines watching.

I'm not saying adverbs should be banned from writing.  They are a part of the English language for reason and I personally like them every now and again.

If you're an adverb lover why not try to flex your writing muscle a bit more today.  Write something and go through replacing all the 'ly' adverbs with more dynamic verbs, adjectives, etc.  See where that takes you.

What are your thoughts on adverbs?  Do you love them, love to hate them or a little of both?
 Deana Barnhart is a thirty-something mom of two who constantly thinks of stories to write, and every once in a while those ideas make it to the computer. She blogs on Monday, Wednesday and Friday or whenver she's dying to spill the beans about something.

Need to replace your weak verbs? Here's a list of strong verbs.


  1. I love adverbs.
    They don't love me back. It's like a bad relationship, where you try to include the friendless one, and then you come to understand why 'one' is friendless, after all the contest judges and betas & editors gut them from your wip.
    And I also love Mark Twain quotes.

  2. I have a terrible habit of using them and then I have to go back and revise. Active verbs make much better writing so kill those adverbs and your writing will be tighter.

  3. My very first contest entry was so full of adverbs, it's embarrassing to look at now. Since I do editing, I've developed the ability to spot them, but they don't jump out at me in my own writing. Hallelujah for great crit partners!


  4. Debbie, you are so kind to say these nice things about me and let me be a guest post! Thanks a billion:)

    Oh the dreaded adverb I love to hate and love at the same time. It makes me feel better knowing others have the same relationship with them.

  5. Yes, it is a love/hate kind of thing! But once you start noticing them, they begin to grate on you when you read. :)


  6. That's good advise. I'll have to keep that in mind. I'm finishing up my second novel and I too homeschool, so I can relate with the frustration over lack of time. I look forward to get to know you better! And congratulations on the writing contests!
    S.B. Niccum
    Author Website

  7. Nice to meet another time-crunched homeschooling mom, Silvina! I love the sound of your book. Maybe I'll get to read your sample chapters later today.
    Thanks for coming by!


  8. Popped over from Deana's blog. LOVE the title of your blog, Debbie. The adverb no-no was new to me when I first got serious about my writing. I do an ly search as part of my revising now to make sure not too many of those pesky little words have snuck into my MS.

  9. Thanks for coming by, Leslie! I write YA, and am a member of SCBWI as well. I'd love to hear about what you write!




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