Removing the Adverbs – the way to better writing

It’s amazing how tight writing becomes when you remove the adverbs. I know, it’s been mentioned time and again in all the writing books, but I’m a slow learner or perhaps I wasn’t ready for that major piece of advice. It took a writer friend to sit down with me and go through five chapters before I actually got it. I can see now how effective a sentence can be without all those quickly, silently, promptly, hurriedly, timidly, grimly, strangely, boringly, unsightly words.

Stephen King writes,’ Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind. With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.’

Compare  “Mirabel was suddenly horrified.” with “Mirabel was horrified.” or “That’s a lie!’ Mirabel said, angered, lifting the shotgun threateningly as if to strike him.” “That’s a lie!’ Mirabel said, angered, lifting the shotgun as if to strike him.”

So yesterday I did a global search of all the ‘ly’s’ in Little Paradise and was able to take out 99% of them. Such a relief.

My friend also pointed out that in many places I was over explaining, leaving little room for the reader to take part. eg. ‘Weighed down with heavy bales on their backs, they looked like monsters in the mist, crawling out of the river. Their shouting and loud cries made them appear even more fightening. Bao Bao began to cry.’

The following is much more effective:

‘Weighed down with heavy bales on their backs, they looked like monsters in the mist, crawling out of the river. Bao Bao began to cry.’

It’s leaving a gap, a silence for the reader to imagine, to picture, to feel what she/he is  reading. If you keep talking at them, telling them how they should feel then the impact of the sentence, the scene does not come from within the reader but from the outside.

So now, with the rain coming down and a steaming hot coffee sitting on my desk, I will do a global search on another pet peeve of my author friend, those two words –  ‘began to’

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