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Use adverbs sparingly, especially in dialogue

Posted by Maria Murnane | November 12, 2013

Adverbs are words used to modify verbs or adjectives. For example:

He is highly paid.

  • She reacted negatively.
  • We cheered wildly.
  • She is extremely friendly.

(A trick to identifying adverbs is that they can’t stand alone. You can say “She is friendly,” but you can’t say “She is extremely.”)

 

Be careful with adverbs in dialogue!

 

 

Adverbs can add great color to your writing when they are sprinkled in here and there. But if used too often or in place of crisper descriptions, especially in dialogue, they can have the opposite effect and make your writing appear bland and lazy.

For example, which of the following sentences paints a better picture in your mind of what is happening?

Scenario A (adverbs are in bold):

 

  • When Susan heard the news, she reacted extremely negatively. “I won’t stand for that!” she replied dramatically.

 

Scenario B: (no adverbs)

 

  • Susan stomped her foot twice upon hearing the news and shouted, “I won’t stand for that!”

 

Or these:

 

Scenario A (again, adverbs are in bold):

 

  • Jack had been dying to see that movie. “What are you doing with that extra ticket?” he asked Jane hopefully.

 

Scenario B: (no adverbs)

 

  • Jack had been dying to see that movie, so with the best please invite me! look he could muster, he tapped Jane on the shoulder. “What are you doing with that extra ticket?”

 

Do you see my point? Using too many adverbs, especially in dialogue, violates the “show vs. tell” rule of writing, which I’ll address in next week’s post.

-Maria

This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2013 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

 

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