logo logo Menu Bar

FAQ & Support Articles


Adverbs


If there’s one telltale sign of an amateur writer, it’s a manuscript crammed with adverbs.

Adverbs are those –ly words, like quickly or angrily, that we tend to rely on in early drafts.  But now that you’re in the editing process, most of them need to go.

Why remove adverbs?

Adverbs rely on weak verbs and adjectives, which make your writing boring.

How do I remove them?

It’s an easy fix: The adverb and the weak verb or adjective almost always can be replaced with a single powerful verb.

For example, instead of . . .

He walked quickly

. . . it’s more descriptive to say:

He ran, galloped, jogged, bolted, or raced.

Think about it . . .

He raced through the parking lot

. . . is much livelier than:

He walked quickly through the parking lot.

Or . . .

She looked very pretty

. . . is not nearly as strong as:

She looked stunning.

Adverbs in dialogue

Another sign of an inexperienced writer is the use of adverbs in dialogue tags.

Dialogue tags are statements that identify who is speaking, such as he said or she whispered.

For instance:

“Don’t you walk away from me!” he shouted angrily.

Get rid of those adverbs--you don’t need them! For starters, the writer already shows the reader the character is angry; after all, his words are angry, and the dialogue tag says he’s shouting.

If you feel like you need to include an adverb to convey how somebody is speaking, that’s a sign you probably need to revise the dialogue itself.

Another reason to search and destroy

Most agents and editors loathe adverbs.  A manuscript littered with adverbs indicates the writer either didn't know to come up with a more powerful verb (and is therefore inexperienced) or the writer knew but didn't bother. And that’s definitely not the impression you want to make.

It’s worth combing through your manuscript to eliminate as many adverbs as possible.

Related areas to look for in your manuscript

If AutoCrit shows that you rely on adverbs, you may need to take another look at all your verbs.  Strong, sexy verbs shouldn't be used just to replace weak verbs or adjectives and adverbs, but also to replace any boring or run-of-the-mill verb or adjective.

For example, you could find a dozen better verbs than “sat.”

Instead of . . .

Jane sat on the couch.

. . . you could say:

Jane sank into the couch.

Or:

Jane slumped onto the couch

Or:

Jane flopped on the couch

Or:

Jane perched on the couch.

Every one of those verbs is more specific and descriptive than sat.  So look for ways to spice up your verbs. Your readers will thank you.

The exception to the rule

Not every adverb has to be destroyed.  Even wildly successful authors (see, I just used one right there!) have been known to use the occasional adverb.  So don’t feel like you have to eliminate every last one from your manuscript.

How will you know when you’ve got too many?  Take a look at the AutoCrit Overused Words Report for a comparison of the number of adverbs found in your writing with those found in published fiction.

The bottom line

Why use two weak words when one strong verb or adjective will do the trick?  Get rid of those adverbs and your prose will magically become tighter, leaner, and more dynamic.