Quite frankly, the problem with adverbs is that they make me want to throw a perfectly good book across the room.
I was reading a book not too long ago, a good one in terms of concept and plot development, but the overuse of adverbs was enough to make me want to call the editor and ask why? Why, oh why would s/he let these little parasites cling to the prose and suck the life out of the story?
At best, adverbs can be amusing: Libby sprang gymnasitcally from branch to branch as if she were a squirrel.*
At worst, they can be downright annoying:
“We made it!” Cindy panted breathlessly.
“Everything they told us about the Land of the Lost is true!” Joe said, looking around eagerly. He absentmindedly leaned his shoulder on a skull that protruded menacingly from the wall of the cave.
“Let’s explore this place,” Cindy said enthusiastically, grabbing Joe by the hand and pulling him strongly.
“Let go of me, immediately,” he said sternly. “I want to quickly take a picture first.*
Do you feel like throwing your computer across the room? Yeah, I just broke out in hives while writing that. But, no joke, I’ve read passages that sounded just like that. Maybe you have, too.
So what’s the deal?
Gasp! Maybe I’m to blame. I taught 3rd grade for many years and encouraged, yea even praised my little learners when they used abverbs in their writing. “We will now expand our vocabulary and learn about adverbs,” I’d say. “They make your story so interesting and exciting!” “Let’s insert an adverb here to describe how Sally climbed up the tree.”
Woe is me. I’ve had a hand in contaminating the next generation of writers.
But what I’d like to know is why are there so many books out there, written by adults who were not taught by me, adults who know to show rather than tell, that have this kind of writing in them? It’s true that our vocabulary has expanded even more since 3rd grade, right?
Well, you could argue they’re not “good” books, that they’ll never sell well. But some of them do! I can’t tell you how many NYT Bestsellers I’ve read that have this kind of writing. Seriously, truly, really, and absolutely! No word of a horrendously horrible lie!
Now, I’m not pretending to be the one to say how books should and shouldn’t be written. But I think for the most part, writers and readers alike can agree on this: death to adverbs! Cut them from your work, drop them into the abyss, and let them scream.
Like Stephen King says, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
What say ye?
*I made these up on the spot. They are not actual examples taken from books. Any similarity to books either living or dead is purely coincidental and not intended by the author. (Just so you explicitly and unequivocally know)