Saturday, June 9, 2012

Night of the Living Adverb

The night has fallen swiftly over the land, and thunder rumbles menacingly in the distance, rattling the windows in their panes. You curl up languidly on the sofa in front of the hearth with a book, where the fire crackles merrily as it slowly warms the room. A new bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon sits silently on the small table beside you, waiting to be poured seductively into a glass by your hunky manservant Tank, who mysteriously has not yet returned from taking out the trash. 

Suddenly a noise--a scream!--outside makes you sit up startledly. The voice belongs to Tank! Your heart pounds racingly in your chest as you rise from the sofa and creep carefully to the window. You peer warily through the rain-streaked panes, when you see them.

Rising eerily from the ground for as far as you can see are adverbs. Moaning creepily and clumsily shaking the dirt from their decaying corpses, they slowly make their way toward the house.

You are rooted to the spot. Tank would save you, but tragically other adverbs have already nabbed him. You can see some of them dining ravenously on his flailing body. His torn, white muscle shirt hangs loosely from his torso. You shut your eyes, not being able to bring yourself to look at the brutally awful treatment the adverbs are inflicting on him. You weep bitterly.

Suddenly another noise meets your ears. This time it is a soft scratching sound, directly behind you. You whirl around hurriedly in fright and nearly faint when you see that even more terribly evil adverbs have somehow made it inside the house and into the very room where you now cower in frighteningly petrifying terror.

The adverbs close in around you. Not an ounce of heavenly mercy shines in their dead eyes.

You realize there is no escape.

Or is there?

Stephen King once said that the road to hell is paved with adverbs. Over time, I have come to agree with him. Adverbs, while not bad in themselves, tend to clutter up sentences that would fare much better without them.

My early writing, just like everyone else's, was loaded with adverbs. It still is to some extent. I've been working to overcome that along with many other flaws in my prose.

I was having a conversation about adverb elimination with a friend the other day. I was talking about how the sentence itself should convey its intended meaning without having to tack on unnecessary adverbs. Here are some examples of how those nasty adverbs can be annihilated.

"We need to talk," she said coldly.


She folded her arms and gave me a hard stare. "We need to talk."

In other words, if you show how a character is acting, you do not need to say what her voice sounded like. Her mood should be made clear by her stance.

Bob crept quietly up the stairs.


Bob crept up the stairs.

It isn't necessary to say that Bob was being quiet, because creeping is quiet in itself. I have never heard anyone creeping loudly, and besides, in that case, they wouldn't be creeping anymore, would they?

And to take an example from the opening vignette:

The night has fallen swiftly over the land, and thunder rumbles menacingly in the distance, rattling the windows in their panes.


Night has fallen over the land. A menacing roll of thunder sounds in the distance, rattling the windows in their panes.

And one final example, which I have stolen from Seize the Night by Dean Koontz, which I am currently reading. The character Chris Snow says,

I was breathing shallowly through my mouth, not solely because this method was comparatively quiet.

Now I love Dean and his books and all, but if I were to rewrite this sentence, this is what I would say:

I took shallow breaths through my mouth, not just because this method was quiet in comparison.

The second sentence looks much better, don't you think? ;)

In conclusion, I hope that these few examples have given you some idea as to how you can save yourself from those vicious, undead adverbs that have invaded your living room and/or prose.

If not, here's a dude with a flamethrower. I've heard they work great in situations like these.

Bailey out.


  1. Adverbs have a defined time and place and I'm a stickler for not using them to define an action, such as in your first example. You can't say anything coldly. You can have an icy tone, a cold edge to your voice, etc. Just the inner editor in me coming out I guess. Like you said, the second sentence rings much more real. I chuckled all the way through the lead in example by the way, well done!

    1. I'm glad I was able to keep you entertained! :)