Amateur Advice: How and why I get rid of adverbs

Before I delve into this post, I want to apologize to adverbs.

I don’t have anything against you guys. I use you all the time in my day-to-day communications. However, when I am editing my writing, you guys have to ride the red pen out of my work. Sorry.

In my first draft, I don’t worry myself over word choice, pacing, grammar, or any other of those details. If you have read my earlier post, you know that my first draft is usually written by hand to eliminate distractions and turn down my internal editor. A first draft’s goal is to get the story out of my head, and onto the page. After I get the story out it is time to do my first edit.

The first edit happens during the transition from paper to computer. During this step, I am looking for problems in the structure of the story. I tend to change things for pacing or plot-logic reasons.

The second edit is where I start aiming at those pesky adverbs. The problem with adverbs in fiction writing is that they turn down the intensity of your sentence. If the verb needs a modifier to describe the action, I probably chose the wrong verb. Choosing the right verb speeds up the pace of the story and gives the reader a more clear image.

The specific things I look for when I am hunting adverbs are: “-ly” words, “very”, and the “to be” verbs. Keying in on these instances help me eliminate the majority of unnecessary adverbs in my writing. I replace them with better verbs or a rephrased sentence that more clearly conveys my story.



What are your thoughts on adverbs? Do you have a special way of dealing with them? Please, let me know!


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About Jeremy D Powell

I am a husband and father, writer and thinker. By nature, I tend to be introverted. I am attempting to nurture my inner extrovert. It's going OK.

9 responses to “Amateur Advice: How and why I get rid of adverbs”

  1. Michelle Proulx says :

    I like adverbs! Not a crushing tidal wave of them, but one or two on a page is cool by me. I especially need them for dialogue. The English language doesn’t have enough words to convey the concept “he/she said”. If someone is loud, there’s lots of options – scream, shout, holler, bellow, screech, shriek. If someone is happy, they can exclaim, enthuse, etc. But what about just plain talking? They’re having a normal conversation about normal things. The only word that really conveys that, I feel, is ‘said’. But half a page of said, said, said, said, is really boring. Hence the adverbs.

    • Jeremy D Powell says :

      I agree. Some adverbs are necessary. I have a tendency to use them as a crutch, though. I use them in my rough drafts so I don’t have to stop the flow to think of the perfect word. During my rewrites I take that time and refine my word choice.

  2. meganpaasch says :

    I try to use adverbs sparingly (ha, that’s and adverb!) as well, but if I’m not paying attention, they creep their way in more often than I would like. As for speech tags, I’ve been trying to get rid of them all together when possible, and replace them with an action or description of the tone of voice to convey the emotion behind what is being said. You can overdo that as well though. A healthy mix is probably best. But, I’m still working on my first major piece of writing, so I really have no idea what I’m doing.

    • Jeremy D Powell says :

      I am working on my first novel, too. I’ve written many short stories, but I’m finding that the attention to detail that writing a longer format requires is much more intense.

      Good luck to you!

  3. lauriehanan says :

    The advice I’ve received from more than one bestselling author (and I mean New York Times top 100, not indie free book bestsellers) is NO ADVERBS. Once you get used to the HOW of avoiding them, then maybe it’s OK to go back and throw in an adverb here or there. Especially if it truly enhances the reader’s understanding of the scene. But I’m talking about one adverb per chapter MAX.

    Adverbs are a sign of an amateur writer, someone who doesn’t know the rules of good writing, who doesn’t understand there’s a better way. When I see too many adverbs in a book, I toss it. Same goes for speech tags. Learn how to convey everything WITHOUT using them. Then maybe – just maybe – you can throw one in here and there.

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