“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” -Stephen King
Excerpts from The Stand, by Stephen King:
“Huh!” Harold said, squeaked actually.
“Go away!” he yelled tearfully.
He looked up at her finally, his face tear streaked and still wanting to blubber. “I want my mother,” he said simply.
“You’re already getting one,” she added critically, looking at his shoulders.
“My mother was always taken with Amy. She was Amy’s friend,” he amplified with unconscious and nearly pitiful childishness.”
Those sentences occur in one scene, over the course of about two pages. That wasn’t even all of them.
Now, I’m not picking on Mr. King. King said the simple sentence at the top of this post, and it has gone absolutely viral. (See what I did there?) King also said that quote many, many years after penning The Stand. Like all writers, his style has grown and changed. He still uses adverbs, mind you, but that isn’t my point.
My point is that The Stand is a well-written, spellbinding read despite the liberal sprinkling of adverbs throughout.
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs” has become the battle cry of adverb haters throughout the literary world.
Here’s what I personally think happened. (See there? I did it again!) One of the qualities that has been noted in poor writing is a far too heavy a hand with adverbs. One can only read so many dialog modifiers (quietly, simply, laughingly, snidely, etc) in a row before one kills a book with fire. That is not the only place in grammar that a writer might overuse them, either. However, there is a big difference between “nearly every sentence has an adverb or three” and “avoid all adverbs like the black death.”
I recently heard a writer say something along the lines of: “I allow myself three adverbs per 10,000 words.”
Really? “I do not keep track of how many adverbs per 10k words I use. I’m too busy writing,” she said, snarkily.
Yes. By all means, there are many times when one should mix up one’s writing and not use the easy, adverb choice.
“I don’t know how we will get out of this cave with that rabid wombat blocking the entrance,” she said worriedly.
“I don’t know how we will get out of this cave with that rabid wombat blocking the entrance.” Peering into the shadows at the mouth of the cave, she furrowed her brow and clenched her hands tightly together.
I’m not saying that the second option will leave anyone in awe of my writing skills, but it does give the reader more info in a “show” vs “tell” way. The writer can either tell the reader that she is worried, or he can show it. In the middle of a fast-paced scene of a thriller novel, tell might be the best way to go in order not to disrupt the pace of the scene. A smart writer considers all of the ways he might write something and chooses what’s best for the situation. A smart writer does not follow zero tolerance blanket rules that state adverbs are poison or one must always show and not tell. As a wise poster said on the Water Cooler, “I use all the words.”
So gentle readers, walk freely and hold your heads high. Don’t be afraid to liberally sprinkle your prose with adverbs, so long as that is what the situation warrants. While the road to hell might be paved with adverbs, it might also end up being a stunningly good read.
As always, I’m a writer not a grammar queen. I make mistakes, and they may be in this very post!
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