Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Word on Behalf of Adverbs

I feel compelled to say a few words on behalf of the much-maligned adverb.

I'm currently reading Stephen King's On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.  Like a number of other writers (including the inimitable Strunk & White), Mr. King abhors the use of adverbs in writing, especially in dialogue attribution.

If you don't remember your grade school grammar lessons (or Schoolhouse Rock), an adverb is a word that modifies a verb, adverb, clause or phrase.  They are usually the words ending in -ly: swiftly, softly, quickly, slowly, angrily, sadly, unflinchingly. Dialogue attribution in writing means the phrases where the writer identifies which character has spoken a line a dialogue: he said, she said.  Many writers like King believe that adverbial dialogue attribution is a Very Bad Thing: "He said angrily", "Joan shouted furiously".  

I am a believer in moderation in all things, and I can see where too much use of adverbs in dialogue attribution can be undesirable.  It's possible to show that he said it angrily by using other descriptive vocabulary instead of stating it as part of the dialogue attribution.  But I also believe that adverbs are part of our language and we should use them sometimes.  They can be the ground black pepper sprinkled judiciously (see what I did there?) on top of our vocabulary salad.

William F. Nolan once commented that if you want to reduce your word count, remove all the adverbs.  But I feel that excising the adverbs will leave your text a bit bland.  I find it rather dull to read a story in which all the characters only say their dialogue and never say it with any kind of flavor.  I intend to keep using adverbs in my writing, now and then, when they seem most effective.

This has been a public service announcement on behalf of adverbs.

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