Happy New Adverb

As a writer, one must, one presumes, set some sort of writing goal for 2018.  “Write more” is always a good one.  “Read more,” in my case – I’m definitely reading less than I used to.  Time is a factor.

But my most ambitious goal for this year is to be successfully traditionally published.  Realising that I had just shoved two awkward adverbs together, I made my second goal:  to adverbly go where no-one has gone before.

Why are adverbs frowned upon?  A beta reader told me recently that there shouldn’t be more than one adverb per page of any novel.  Is this some kind of Writing Rule?  I’m not talking about common adverbs but the more imaginative ones (although first thing on New Year’s Day, I’m hard-pressed to find an example.)

. . . . .

Convinced I’d find some terrific adverbs in my latest novel, I’ve just gone and had a look at it, searching for all words ending with “ly” (it seemed the quickest way.)  I confess I got a bit of a shock:  there are TEN adverbs on the first page alone and one of them I’ve used twice.  NONE of them are what I would call imaginative.  The best one, on page two, is “stereotypically.”  The rest are really, really (ahem) common.  I use “only” and “really” about a million times a minute.  I am shocked.  Horrified, in fact.  I am horrifyingly shocked.  I am shockingly horrified.  I am an adverb freak!

I was going to use this space to advocate using adverbs more;  to treat with respect the much-maligned part-of-speech.  Instead, I just feel ashamed…….

……but should I??!?  We use trillions of adverbs in our daily speech – why shouldn’t we use them in our writing??  Particularly when you’re deliberately NOT writing a literary work but something considerably more effortless.  I think the word I’m looking for here is commercial – does it follow that commercial fiction has more adverbs than literary works?  I’ve noticed YA fiction has more adverbs than most, which must be why I like it:  the prose is often more imaginative and so much more ALIVE than some very dry fiction I’ve come across.

If I had to take out nine adverbs from the first page of my novel, leaving just the prerequisite one, the writing would turn grey.  So instead of feeling ashamed, I’m going to take a stand:  I’m going to go for COLOUR.  Adverbs are about colour.  They are about adding poetry and rhythm and a sense of space to your writing.  Writing well shouldn’t be about only using one adverb a page:  it should be about expressing an idea beautifully.

. . . . .

And just to prove that it’s not just me, I’ve found other terrific blogs about adverbs:




Best of all, this blog points out the hypocrisy of adverb-haters:



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About susannahjbell

I am a writer of science fiction and other strange and surreal works. I mostly write novels and the occasional novelette. My published works include A Doorway into Ultra, the Fleet Quintet and the Exodus Sequence. I live in London in an attic flat but really want to live in a tree. I wanted to be an astrophysicist but would settle for an alien abduction. I write because I don’t know what to read.
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2 Responses to Happy New Adverb

  1. L.M. Nelson says:

    There are a ridiculous number of writing “rules” out there that writers are supposed to follow. I think the whole adverb thing came into being because the powers that be, whoever they are, want writers to focus more on strong verbs. I don’t have a problem with adverbs, unless they are overused. Some writers put one in every sentence.

    I find it funny how everything we teach our children in school about writing is the exact opposite of what editors and publishers want. Either the way we teach writing needs to change or publishing companies need to allow for individual styles and not expect “cookie cutter” writers. Just my two cents worth.

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