To put it mildly, agents, editors, and even readers tend to hate adverbs, or at least they hate the overuse of adverbs. So, what is an adverb? Adverbs are words that describe an action. Typically, they end in “ly” (see what I did there?). What are some examples? Let’s use some Game of Thrones references to liven things up a bit. (*Mild spoilers ahead for GoT virgins.*)
- Joffrey died painfully after being poisoned.
- Danaerys flew quickly on the back of her dragon into the battle.
- John Snow led his men bravely into battle.
- The Lannisters ruled their kingdom harshly.
- When Jaime was about to be killed, Bronn quickly pushed him out of the way.
In each of these sentences, the action (died, flew, led, ruled, pushed) is described with an adverb. It’s true – Joffrey did die painfully after he was poisoned, so what’s wrong with using the adverb? It slows down your story and makes your reader trip over your words. While the occasional adverb isn’t a problem, many manuscripts include passages of text with adverb after adverb after adverb, and they’re usually all unnecessary.
So, how can you avoid using adverbs but still describe the action in detail? Choose stronger verbs to begin with. Here are some amended sentences to give you an idea.
- Joffrey clutched his throat and stumbled forward before keeling over dead from poisoning.
- Danaery’s dragon raged into the battle with her riding on top.
- John Snow inhaled a deep breath, steadied his hands, and then hurled himself into the battle, his men following behind him.
- As a family, the Lannisters destroyed any threat to their rule, even from their own people.
- Bronn threw himself into Jaime, pushing him out of the way just as he was about to be killed.
Each of these sentences still gets the point across, but the action is more vivid. You’re showing, not telling the reader what happened.
When Joffrey clutched his throat and stumbled forward, it is obvious to the reader that he’s dying a painful death.
When John Snow takes a deep breath and steadies his hands, it’s clear that he’s scared, but he leads his men into battle anyways. This makes him brave.
The fact that the Lannisters destroy any threat to their rule shows that they rule harshly.
The overall sentiment of the message doesn’t change – you’ve just exchanged weak verbs that need more detail (died, flew, led, ruled, pushed) with stronger verbs (clutched, raged, hurled, destroyed, threw) that imply everything you want to show. I hope this helps clear up any questions you may have when someone says there are too many adverbs in your manuscript.
Have any questions? Let me know below in the comments!