A Secret to Better Writing? DON’T USE ADVERBS!
I was in Berlin last month (you may not have been aware if you don’t or haven’t been following my main blog, Expensive Tastes), visiting an old uni friend who has since made Germany his home.
He’s an aspiring novelist himself, though has a self-confessed habit of killing his own plots, and also my harshest critic (although my work always comes away better after he makes his points…)
He is quite active on Goodreads, a social network for readers and writers alike (you can visit and follow my Author Page here), where he regularly reviews works he has read. One of his most interesting points of feedback on one book (he neglected to say which), was that there were “too many adverbs”.
At first, I thought it was a ridiculous thing to say. You are taught to use adverbs from your earlier years of English in school (or at least, I was). They add further description to how something is done and/or said, which is the crux of the argument I made to my friend. His response was simply, “Use better verbs”.
By this point, still, I was adamant that this wasn’t correct and that adverbs are pretty common devices in many celebrated works of literature. I know for a fact that the Harry Potter books are full of them, which is probably why I used them so frequently in The Berylford Scandals: Lust & Liberty, since I model some of my style on J.K. Rowling’s. Even in writing this blog, I have used them without even noticing! It’s just how I write.
But it wasn’t until I continued reading Victor Hugo’s immortal Les Misérables, as I have been for the last 8 months on-and-off, that I then observed a pretty-much total absence of adverbs! Plenty of description and discussion as Hugo is notorious, but adverbs are replaced by lengthy poetic and/or historical comparisons. In my opinion, totally unsuitable to the reader of today. It’s certainly a challenge that I am attempting to undertake in writing my current piece.
Obviously (there’s another one), there are some instances where you simply cannot avoid using an adverb. There are only so many times you can find metaphors and similes to use in lieu of “quickly” or “simply”, without pissing off your readers.
Have a look when you’re next reading — which writers adhere to this adverb avoidance and which can’t help it?
I have been unable to resist the urge to start a vlog/vodcast, which will be starting soon. These will hopefully be discussing creative and cultural lifestyle topics. Watch this space.