When I write I commit a cardinal writing sin . . ., apparently. I use adverbs. Shocking, I know. I like them, particularly the ones ending in ‘ly’. Let me explain . . .
I design jewelry, flower arrangements, quilts, bags/pouches, and I use words to write stories. In all of these creative avenues, it’s like seeing a sculpture and calling it forth from lone components to craft something unique. When I design I’ve found this philosophy to be true—art is in the details. It’s a little flourish here or there, making a certain work stick out from the crowd. That’s why I include adverbs in my written work. They act as a flare, giving a word more illumination.
What exactly is an adverb? I found this definition online: a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc. (e.g., gently, quite, then, there ).
Some critics say adverbs weaken your work. They say, “Choose a strong verb instead.” I agree meaty verbs should be used. But give me a well-placed old fashioned adverb, and you’ve handed me a richer way to experience what I read.
For instance take these paragraphs, which I pulled out of my current work in progress set in rural WI in the 1890’s. In this scene one of the main characters, Beryl Massart, visits the general store in town . . .
—“So you’re the ones that dun bought ol’ Oliver’s place.” An ancient looking man with gold wire rimmed glasses set midway upon his crooked nose looked up at Beryl with rheumy eyes. He said the word ‘old’ contemptuously, as if he were a young man. Stepping closer, he squinted at her. Beryl took a step back. Her rump bumped against a barrel of flour preventing retreat.
“Had the sweetwater disease he did.” The man shook his head in a slow sorrowful way. “Good man. Good family. They had to move back to Illinois to her folks after his passin’.” He pushed his glasses higher up his nose and blinked. “Heard o’ the Massart name roundabouts.”
Beryl still hadn’t spoken a word. It flabbergasted her how the strange man seemed to know her and Edward.
“Grandfather.” A young woman appearing similar in age to Beryl approached them with a quick step, her blue eyes bright. “I think you’ve caught Mme. Massart at a disadvantage.” She reached up and patted her raven hair, which plumed out plumply from beneath a wine colored hat; the thinly striped shirtwaist she wore matched. The tone of her skin shone with an iridescent, alabaster sheen, opaque enough for Beryl to see the delicate blue network of lacy veins in her wrist.—
I could get by without the healthy amount of adverbs in that portion of my manuscript, but to me they add more detail and paint a richer picture. Someone else may say they encumber the story, and that could be true. Too much of a good thing can be burdensome. I think the use or not of adverbs boils down to personal taste. I enjoy a dense chewy story that uses all the parts of speech. It’s like digesting a well-balanced meal.
So here’s to adverbs. Love or hate ’em.