A is for Adverbs and Adjectives #AtoZChallenge

The Reviled Adverb & Less-Maligned Adjective

A Little Guidance on Description
A guest post by Wodke Hawkinson

Stephen King's aversion to adverbs is well-known. You can find this quote attributed to Mr. King all over the internet: "The road to Hell is paved with adverbs." But what is an adverb? Technically, it's a modifier. It's a word that describes a verb, a phrase, an adjective, or even another adverb. It's often created by adding -ly or -ally to a regular innocent word, a word that without the -ly would hardly offend anyone. Even Mr. King.

An adverb may tell how something is accomplished. For instance, saying that John walked doesn't tell us much. On the other hand, saying that John walked quickly is more descriptive. Seems harmless enough, doesn't it? Unfortunately, it's not. Put too many of these rascals into your manuscript and you run the risk of producing an amateurish piece of writing. Why is this so? Because you can usually find a better way to say it. Many writers would refuse to say that John walked quickly. They might say that John hurried. Or that he scrambled. Or that he stomped, marched, tore, flew, zipped, hustled, strode, swaggered, or hastened. Anything to avoid the dreaded "-ly".

Are all adverbs bad? I don't think so. As a reader, I want to know how something is done. If John speaks, I want to know if he speaks softly or if he yells. So, once in a while, an adverb is acceptable. Use them sparingly. As a person who actually adores adverbs, I don't enjoy having to criticize them. However, even I have to accede that adverbs are like spices. Using too many can spoil the recipe.

"I hate you," John said softly.
This tells your reader how John speaks and it does so in a concise manner. However, there are alternatives that might have more impact. Try these on for size:

"I hate you," John murmured.

"I hate you," John whispered.

"I hate you," John muttered.
Or you can dispense with the "said" verb altogether:

"I hate you." John's voice was barely audible.

"I hate you." John spoke quietly but with great conviction.

"I hate you." John's soft tone carried an undercurrent of malice.
Anyway, you get the idea.

Now, adjectives are much friendlier and more accepted, although there are writers out there who avoid them as well. An adjective is a word that describes a noun or a pronoun. In my opinion, adjectives are important. For instance, our character, John, drives a car. We want to know more about that car. Is it big? Is it new? What color is it? So we will put our trusty adjectives to work in order to help our readers picture John in his car. Here are a few possibilities for John's vehicle:

John drove a modified hearse, bought from a former undertaker.

John owned an old beat-up car.

John raced around town in a flashy red car.
Can you take adjectives too far? Yes. Here is an example:
John inhaled the fresh invigorating sweet clean morning breeze and stared at the robust yellow happy bright tulips that bordered his vibrant green healthy thick lawn.
In a sentence like that, some adjectives must be sacrificed. As a writer, you must choose the best ones and discard the rest. If you put too many adjectives in your prose, you will weigh it down. It wearies the reader after a while, slogging through all that verbiage in search of the point you are trying to make.

Whew! That last example was wordy! I think I actually liked it better when John was merely driving his car and hating someone.

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