“The road to hell is paved with adverbs”

“The road to hell is paved with adverbs”, wrote Stephen King in ‘On Writing’. As a rule, I agree. Totally. They tend to weaken a sentence. As do most adjectives, for that matter.

Adverbs, to my opinion, are especially dreadful in dialogues:

“Well, you tell me”, she said perkily.

If a character is perky, then make her say perky things. Or better still: make her say things in a perky way. Simply calling her actions or lines perky, isn’t going to cut it. A character’s voice should be made clear through dialogue and actions, not adverbs.

The same goes for about every adverb you can think about: sadly, aggressively, hesitantly,…

Yet sometimes, adverbs just crawl up on me. Most of those die a silent death during rewrites. But some get to me. Sometimes, it just feels so wrong to cut them. Because it would leave the sentence… naked, plucked, harsh.

Still, I cannot remember one sentence from literature containing an adverb, that really, really stuck.

Right now, I’m in serious doubt whether my protagonist is searching a bunch of front gardens for a place to hide, hurriedly or not. Are his eyes wandering jitterly, agitatedly? You tell me.

How do you feel about adverbs?


15 thoughts on ““The road to hell is paved with adverbs”

  1. I’m addicted …yes, addicted to adverbs and adjectives. Must.Stop.Using.
    Great, focused post. Will follow your advice starting now – Adnan

  2. I feel like you are completely right about your argument. So many people try to make two dimensional characters but then do not reflect that in their writing. Dialogue is a key component in writing and should not be overlooked. If you can take a line from one character and give it to another and not notice the difference, you have a problem. Each character should be unique and given life. Hence, just saying perkily does not make a character truly perky. You should reflect it in your writing (very nice example you used by the way).

    • Thanks! I like the way you put it. Each character should have its own voice. When you read a line of dialogue, you should be able to tell which character it belongs to, just by the tone and choice of words.

      • Exactly! So many people don’t do this, and I think if people were to just embrace this concept then they wouldn’t have such a hard time with developing characters. It’s a simple idea that is overlooked.

      • So true! The character’s voice should flow from his or her personality though. You should understand who your character is before you can find his or her voice. Although one time I started out from a bizarre way of speaking and built the rest around that. A lot of aspiring writers don’t take the trouble to really develop strong characters. A lot of people just write about themself in some form. 🙂

      • I agree! One should always know who their character is before writing. Although in your case, a bizarre speech pattern is enough to formulate an interesting character. I still think that counts. You can have a lot of personality in speech patterns. I think this is what separates a mediocre writer with a good one. I just wish more people understood that!

      • Well, I mean I started out with the idea for the speech pattern, then made up the personality and the background to match. You can start anywhere, I guess, as long as you don’t stop there.

      • That sounds really interesting. And it is true that you can start anywhere. I like how you came up with a character centered around speech. It’s a very fascinating perspective! (And by that I mean how you came up with the personality and background based on their speech patterns).

  3. Reblogged this on Awry With Words and commented:
    For anyone who loves to write, I think you should read this. It is so true. Dialogue with characters is essentially for maintaining and creating their personality. Don’t take the easy way out with adverbs – reflect their personality with what they say!

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