“I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. To put it another way, they’re like dandelions. If you have one on your lawn, it looks pretty and unique. If you fail to root it out, however, you find five the next day… fifty the day after that… and then, my brothers and sisters, your lawn is totally, completely, and profligately covered with dandelions. By then you see them for the weeds they really are, but by then it’s—GASP!!—too late.”
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
I was surprised by this piece of advice in Stephen King’d On Writing. What’s wrong with adverbs? Don’t they help the reader better understand what you want them to visualize?
The most convincing argument for me is pretty simple. Most (all?) of the time the adverb just isn’t necessary. The sentence and the verb work just fine without the added adverb.
“Consider the sentence He closed the door firmly. It’s by no means a terrible sentence (at least it’s got an active verb going for it), but ask yourself if firmly really has to be there. You can argue that it expresses a degree of difference between He closed the door and He slammed the door, and you’ll get no argument from me … but what about context? What about all the enlightening (not to say emotionally moving) prose which came before He closed the door firmly? Shouldn’t this tell us how he closed the door? And if the foregoing prose does tell us, isn’t firmly an extra word? Isn’t it redundant?”
Remove those extra words and redundancies for the reader. Your writing will be better that way.
“Really” and “Actually”
I’m searching through the manuscript to a book I am working on right now to remove the adverbs, which King suggests. There are so many unnecessary -ly words!
They knew the answers to the questions, but did they really grasp the significance of what they just experienced?
Those hopes and dreams, however, are soon confronted with the challenge of actually planning and executing an engaging lesson.
The problem was that I really didn’t have a structure to use for these worksheets.
Thomas Merton describes this transformation as one from the “false self,” which is dominated by selfishness and ego, to the “true self,” which is being what God truly calls me to be—in unity with him.
As I started going through the process, I realized that removing “really” and “actually” alone would address about 80% of my adverb usage. “Really” and “actually” were almost always unnecessary. It is amazing how much stronger these and other sentences read without “really” and “actually.” I didn’t realize how tentative I was about some of these ideas until I found myself trying to puff them up with extra adverbs!