Wednesday, September 7, 2011

How to Use Adverbs in Your Writing

Getting your work (heavily) edited by a professional publisher can quickly open your eyes to quite a few “blind spots” in your writing style.

For many of us, these blind spots come in the form of the overuse and abuse of adverbs. As most of us are familiar with from grade school English class, an adverb is used to modify a verb - just like an adjective will modify a noun. Most adverbs end in “ly”. If you use too many adverbs in your work, the tone of the novel will feel weak and poorly written. The abuse of adverbs will make the reader feel like the author wasn’t able to find the right wording and substituted in an adverb as a last resort.

In short, overusing adverbs does not equal strong writing.

When it comes to the adverb dilemma, less is more. If your novel is overly descriptive and loaded full of adverbs, it will actually make the reader feel less involved and less attracted to the action and plot of the book.

One example is with the use of the word “quickly”. I have to admit from my own personal experience that this is an adverb that I have used and abused. I have been told by editors in the past that my lead character can’t do everything “quickly”. Instead of overusing an adverb like “quickly”, it’s best to eliminate it altogether and instead show urgency in the action of the character.

Instead of “she replied quickly”, use “she shot back” as a form of reply. This subtle change in wording makes a big difference because it draws the reader into the action instead of using a vague, descriptive term that they have heard hundreds and hundreds of times before.

Taking it a step further, it’s best not to use an adverb in dialogue if at all possible since the written dialogue should support itself. It is perfectly fine to use “he said” or “she said” as dialogue tags or leave the dialogue tag out altogether. When you use “she replied quickly”, you’re taking away from the tone and context of the dialogue that should convey the message to the reader in the first place.

If you’ve already written a complete manuscript and have it ready to submit to publishers, congratulations! But before you begin an onslaught of query letters, go back through your manuscript with a fine tooth comb and cut out as many adverbs as possible. It may seem unnatural at first, but when you read through it for the second time, you’ll notice the difference.

Bethany Ramos is an author and full-time freelance writer with experience in Internet marketing, social media marketing, and SEO. She is passionate about writing captivating children's books and witty chick lit. For more information, you can visit her blog at

1 comment:

  1. Bethany -- great post. I love "she shot back" as a replacement for "she replied quickly."