Saturday 30 October 2010

To adverb or not to adverb?

I'm not a no-adverbs-at-any-price writer. I think, like exclamation marks, they have their place (although I believe Graham Greene would have disagreed). But I have just re-read a Dick Francis* (I'd run out of reading material), and he is quite amazing. Almost every piece of dialogue is qualified with an adverb, some of them quite astonishingly clumsy. In a random couple of pages there are the following; pleasantly, faintly, weakly, shamfacedly, suddenly, disbelievingly, thoughtfully, neutrally, passionately, swiiftly, advisedly. And that's just a couple of pages.

I notice these things much more now that I write more. Points of view, too. Some writers seem to get away with jumping from one POV to another, and it can be quite jarring. But would I have noticed before I had to examine my own writing so carefully? I'm not sure.

* I don't wish to be disparaging about DF; I read, and enjoyed, many of his books while feeding my 3rd baby. He's good holiday reading, and tells a pacy story.


  1. I find I'm constantly wishing I could edit the books I'm reading. 'That's the wrong word, there', I'll think or 'tsk, same word twice in the same paragraph' or 'what, exactly, is the point of this scene?'
    One of the greatest compliments I can pay a book these days is 'I wouldn't have changed a thing'!!

  2. Me too. I often find myself thnking 'Will would never have let this go'. Are we the only ones to have a picky (ie expert!) editor?

  3. I despise adverbs in dialogue tags, and dislike many of the more obvious one in text when they modify verbs or adjectives.

    But, of course, there are many adverbs without which we couldn't write much of anything--adverbs of time, frequency, or place. I wish they had another name for these than "adverbs." I've seen a number of writers assert "I never use adverbs," which is pretty funny given that "never" is an adverb. (Not to mention "there," "often," "early"...

  4. Isn't "despise" a bit strong, David? I think there's case for an adverb in dialogue if the tone isn't implicit in what's said (and if it's reasonably important). But I do think they should be used sparingly (another adverb...).