Adverb Axing

In the classic writing guide, The Elements of Style, the last chapter is devoted to developing strong, sinewy writing and offers a number of valuable tips for aspiring authors. “Cautionary hint” number 4 advises “write with nouns and verbs.” The text, which doesn’t mince words on this front, exhorts us to:

“Write with nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs. The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place. This is not to disparage adjectives and adverbs; they are indispensable parts of speech. Occasionally, they surprise us with their power…In general, however, it is nouns and verbs, not their assistants, that give to good writing its toughness and color.”

Stephen king, who is known for his lean, muscular prose, is an ardent adverb eliminator. In his guide, On Writing, he talks about his dislike of unnecessary, prose-padding adverbs and his belief that they get in the way of a good story. One of his missions during rewriting is to ruthlessly ax all but the most essential adverbs from his drafts.

In this same spirit, the very helpful handbook called A Writer’s Coach lists a number of illuminating examples of beneficial adverb axing:

Today, the town is filled to capacity. Note: if it’s filled, it’s filled. It can’t be filled to less than capacity, can it?

The two are bound together by a common thought. Note: If you’re bound, you’re about as together as you can get.

…Which he has already filled up for this season. Note: We attach “up” to all kinds of verbs that don’t need its help — “divide up,” Free up”.

If these candidates persist in dodging around this issue… Note: If you dodge something, by definition, you are moving around it.

Mmmm. All this adverb attacking has given me food for thought. I think I’m going to comb through my latest YA draft and see if I’ve been a little too free with these pesky little fellows. How about you? Want to do some adverb hunting?

About karinwritesdangerously

I am a writer and this is a motivational blog designed to help both writers and aspiring writers to push to the next level. Key themes are peak performance, passion, overcoming writing roadblocks, juicing up your creativity, and the joys of writing.
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