What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

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What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby E McD » 21 Feb 2010, 21:34

Why are we supposed to hate adverbs again? I feel like a teenager who has forgotten why my clique hates Sarah this week... can someone remind me, please?

I've read a lot of complaints recently about authors overdosing on adverbs, and another article stated one should avoid adverbs in speech tags at all costs. (Ex: "Don't go down there," she whispered ominously.)

WHY? Is this a telling not showing thing?

And while I'm at it, does anyone else remember "Lolly, Lolly, Lolly, get your adverbs here"? Schoolhouse Rock, baby. God, it's late...
-Emily McDaniel
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby tameson » 21 Feb 2010, 21:50

To give a lame example (and simple one):

"No," he said angrily.
vs
"No," he said, his fist shaking.

The second is more descriptive- I can see a man shaking his fist, but an angry man, well, there are a hundred ways a man can be angry. And I know that if his fist is shaking he is probably angry. Hence showing vs telling- one I show how he is angry, the other I just tell you he is angry.

Similarly, describing someone as beautiful or handsome is pretty meaningless. What does a handsome man look like? Ask a hundred people and everyone will come up with something different.

That being said, I use adverbs. But I like to think I first consider why I am using them and if another image would be more effective. Sometimes telling is appropriate.

And yes, I remember schoolhouse rock from childhood and I own the DVD.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby polymath » 21 Feb 2010, 22:24

In short, adverbs all too often do the opposite of their modifying purposes. They can weaken rather than strengthen other parts of speech, particularly verbs.

Brilliantly worded might be a tell in many contexts, but without the adverb there's no expressed comment on worded. One of modifiers' strengths is expressing comments. Marsha's brilliantly worded darlings fell flat upon the audience's ears. Might the brilliantly adverb used in the adjective phrase be an overstatement in the style of verbal irony?

Quickly ran could be construed as causing a tautology between the two words. It also might be a weak predicate phrase and weak word choices when there's so many one-word verbs that mean much more. Jogged, cantered, galloped, dashed, etc., and phrases, like ran headlong.

Conversely, adverbs play an important role in "expressing some relation of manner or quality, place, time, degree, number, cause, opposition, affirmation, or denial, and in English also serving to connect and to express comment on clause content".* Adverbs also play an imporant role in hedging or hyperbolous speech, when used in dialogue to characterize characters or for overt narrators expressing comments, for example.

*Webster's 11th.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby Leila » 22 Feb 2010, 01:51

Throwing in my two cents worth...

I agree that the issue seems to be huge. Avoid at all costs is indeed the common theme.

There's the technical responses - indicated above - which make perfect sense, then there's the readability and connection to the story response, which fits too.

In my somewhat basic opinion, it seems to me that one should use whatever magic ingredients are required to make the story spellbinding and take the reader along for the ride. I know everyone will hate me using Stephanie Meyer's name yet again, but, case in point.... (I know, I know, people said bad writing technique, drowned the story in adverbs etc).

Anyway, maybe everything in writing, as in every other industry, needs to be tempered with a dash of common sense. Work out what fits your story and adapt, adjust, measure etc from there. No two stories are the same, nor would we want them to be. If everyone applied exactly the same formulaic approach to every piece of literature, imagine how bland it would feel.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby taylormillgirl » 22 Feb 2010, 06:28

Ditto the others; they said it all. I still use adverbs in my writing, but sparingly. (See? ;-)

When it comes to dialogue tags, the only adverb I use to follow 'said' is the rare 'softly.' For example:

"Say it again," he said softly, "like you really mean it."

I choose to break the rule here because my speaker isn't whispering, but he isn't speaking at a conversational volume, either, and I don't want to slow the pace by going into great detail to describe his voice.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby Scott » 22 Feb 2010, 17:08

What taylormillgirl said, pretty much. And others who say adverbs weaken the prose. I see it like this: write without them as much as you can and see how much better your writing gets. You'll eventually avoid them save the occasional moment where they lend a nice rhythm to something or when a narrative shortcut is perfectly acceptable.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby r louis scott » 22 Feb 2010, 18:02

Adverbs burned my farm, ran off my family, and raped my cattle, and they'll do the same to you given half a chance.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby maybegenius » 22 Feb 2010, 18:32

I think most writing courses advise so vehemently (OH NO) against the use of adverbs because beginning writers often use them as a crutch, and they make it very easy to fall into the trap of telling. In many cases, they're repetitive, and give the sense that the writer isn't confident they got the proper emotion across. For example: "He flushed red and clenched his jaw angrily." Most people would be able to gather that a flushed face and clenched jaw are indicative of anger. They don't need to be told.

Likewise, if you phrase dialogue and action appropriately, you almost never need them. "She lowered her eyes and blushed. 'Do you really think so?'" As opposed to, "'Do you really think so?' she asked shyly."

That said, adverbs aren't forbidden. They can be used effectively (!!!) and without weakening the writing. It's just one of those things where you have to be fully aware of what you're doing :) That's really what most writing advice is trying to get across - you *can* break the rules, but you have to understand why the rule is there first.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby Lorelei Armstrong » 22 Feb 2010, 21:37

Kill them! Kill them all! They are the writer editorializing. Get out of your story. It's none of your business.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby Lunetta22 » 22 Feb 2010, 22:28

They are mainly to be avoided mostly. (haha.)

This was discussed at a writer's conference I went to. If it takes you twenty or so words to get around the use of an adverb, you may want to consider using it. Other than that, I think you shouldn't.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby Scott » 23 Feb 2010, 10:02

Just used "apparently" today and I feel a little dirty. Thing is, I was in the head of a character who was wondering about another character and it fit his "voice". So, only a little dirty.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby Lunetta22 » 23 Feb 2010, 11:38

"You dirtily wrote a sentence involving the word apparently?" I said disgustedly.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby Remus Shepherd » 23 Feb 2010, 11:52

The problem with adverbs is that they are difficult to use well. They invite common mistakes. If you know what those mistakes are, you can use adverbs -- and you will understand that they should be rare. If you're not sure what the mistakes are, it's best to avoid them whenever possible, and so that's the advice given to new writers.

Two mistakes given in this thread are the most glaring. 'She said adverbally' lends a color to the word 'said', when its main purpose is to be invisible. Don't do that. Worse than that is the split infinitive, putting an adverb between the verb and its particle: 'To adverbally split'. Never, ever do that.

If you know to avoid those two mistakes, you understand about half of why you should avoid adverbs.

Once you're skilled enough, you might choose to wield incorrect grammar to achieve an effect. On Star Trek they chose to boldly go for the bad grammar effect. :) But don't assume you're at that level of mastery until you know it for sure.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby marilyn peake » 23 Feb 2010, 14:06

I believe this is a modern requirement for writing. If you look at many of the classics, there are adverbs aplenty. My own theory is that it has to do with people reading so much information on the Internet. Language there is often simplified, especially on sites that only allow a certain number of characters, and people have gotten used to reading information that way. (Twitter only allows 140 characters per message or tweet.) Also, it may get tiresome reading lots of Blogs filled with lots of adverbs.
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Re: What Did Adverbs Ever Do to You?!

Postby polymath » 23 Feb 2010, 15:10

The English language has tended toward downstyling everything for most of its existence: hypenation, word compounding, capitalizations, punctuation, parts of speech, syntax, diction, abreviations, etc. The World Wide Web accelerated the downstyling process. Technology tends to accelerate processes.
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