Today I wanted to focus on a writing tip that has really helped me to mature my writing, and might be able to help all of you authors out there. This is a tip that I learned in Stephen King’s book “On Writing”. If you have not that book yet, I recommend it. In the book he provides some extraordinary insights on his life as a writer and insights for all of the aspiring writers out there, as well as seasoned writers. I believe that you are never done learning or changing as an author and must continue to write, write, and rewrite in order to succeed. But that being said, let us continue.
Adverbs, as I am sure you all know, are the words used to describe different things, such as actions. These words usually end in “ly” and the following are some examples: quickly, desperately, prettily, etc. I am sure that for most of your life you have used these words in your writing to describe the actions of your different characters. That being said, what I am about to tell you may change everything that you have thought about writing.
STOP USING ADVERBS
When I first read this in “On Writing” I was stunned. Adverbs had always been one of my favorite tactics to use in my writing and not using them seemed impossible. I thought that without them I wouldn’t be able to develop my characters enough in order to have the reader understand them. But once I went back through the novel that I was working on at the time and deleted all of the adverbs, I couldn’t believe how clean the writing was. Not only did it sound more mature, but it took away all of the words that I had used to describe character actions. Doing so gave the reader more freedom in picturing the characters, and their actions, for themselves. Don’t believe me? Well, don’t worry. I am going to show you an example and let you decide for yourself.
The following paragraph represents a standard paragraph using common adverbs:
“Darla looked at herself eerily in the mirror. Her hair was curled just right and her lips were painted softly with red lipstick. However, she couldn’t look herself in her beautifully blue eyes. She had just committed a dastardly crime and she was filled with guilt. Instead, she shakily put a mascara brush to her eyelashes. That was all she could do.”
Now I am going to write the same paragraph, but take out all of the adverbs:
“Darla looked at herself in the mirror. Her hair was curled just right and her lips were painted with red lipstick. However, she couldn’t look herself in her blue eyes. She had just committed a crime and she was filled with guilt. Instead, she put a mascara brush to her eyelashes. That was all she could do.”
Doesn’t that second paragraph sound cleaner? Removing the adverbs is like cleaning away the unnecessary dirt. By removing them you allow the reader to make their own assumptions about why characters are doing something and how they are doing it. You know how you see your own story, you don’t need to force your reader to see what you are seeing. Your readers are smarter than you may give them credit for, and by removing your adverbs you are respecting the reader.
I hope that you consider limiting your use of adverbs in your writing. It has changed my writing and my life and I am positive it will change yours.
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