“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?

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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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