Like many beginning writers, I used adverbs liberally when first starting out. I thought they were needed to tell the reader how someone was speaking or how they were acting. Then the light bulb went off. "Geesh, Maryann, it's about showing, not telling."
About the same time, I was taking a screenwriting class and learned that it was a huge no-no to use an adverb to indicate how a line was to be spoken. For instance:
Get the hell out of my room.
Get the hell out of my room.
My creative writing instructor told the class that it's not the writer's place to tell the actor how to speak - that's the director's job. And we can help the actor and director by writing a line of dialogue that conveys the urgency. The words should indicate how the line should be delivered.
Once I got that through my thick skull regarding screenplays, it was easy to see how it translated into novel and short story writing. We have to work really hard to make the words in a line of dialogue show the reader the emotion and inflection behind those words.
If that example from above was in a novel it would simply read, "Get the hell out of my room," Mike said. I chose not to even say "shouted" because the shout is implied. Or it might be even better to give Mike an action after his line that conveys his emotion.
"Get the hell out of my room." Mike shoved his sister toward the door, then slammed it when she was out.
The reason I'm back kicking these poor adverbs to pieces is that I recently received a book to review, and the author is in love with adverbs. Every character opens doors gently, speaks gently, or touches a shoulder softly.
I was hanging in with the story until I came to this sentence: "(character name withheld) gently lifted (name deleted) in her arms and rocked her gently".
That stopped me cold, and I reread the sentence to make sure it wasn't my dyslexia that put the same adverb in the sentence twice.
Nope. The author did it.
Which doesn't mean adverbs are to be avoided at all costs. There is a time and place for them, as illustrated in this quote from another book: "Then he saw the white flag of the deer's tail as it bounded away, and he nearly collapsed with relief."
The author couldn't leave the "nearly" out, as the character would not have literally collapsed, especially since this was a very tense moment in the story where this character was being trailed by a killer.
I hope these examples are helpful for writers who are working on first or second books and may be still unsure of when an adverb is needed and when it is not.
For more on adverbs see previous posts HERE
Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Her latest books are One Small Victory and Play it Again, Sam. Visit her Web site for information about her books and her editing services. If you have a good book, she can help you make it better. When she is not working, Maryann loves to play "farmer" on her little ranch in the beautiful Piney Woods of East Texas.