Thursday, July 12, 2012

Adverbs are our Friends (Part II)

Here’s another entry bent on rehabilitating that much-maligned part of speech, the adverb.  My previous post went over beginner's errors that drive the advice sites to warn you to shun adverbs.  But once you drill yourself into not making those errors, there’s some freedom in using adverbs in a way that these sites would normally describe as mistakes.


1) Have a character habitually use an adverb (or other unnecessary word).  An annoying character can say “Really, really.”  When you think about it, doesn’t that show the character is irritating, rather than your having to tell that fact?  Or another character can sometimes say “Evidently” or some other serious adverb, and later in the story another character can begin a sentence with that same adverb to bug the first character.
2) Use an adverb to weaken a phrase.  Recall the moment in the movie Aliens when the shuttle crashes, and the little girl Newt warns they need to get back inside, because the aliens “mostly come out at night.  Mostly.”

Notice how that last “Mostly” deepens the tension.  It’s also a repetition, but the first “mostly” is for the rhythm of the sentence.

3) Place an adverb outside the main sentence.  This is hard to get the hang of, but it does lead to more colorful sentences.  Start with a nice, clean main sentence that is not cluttered with unnecessary adverbs.  Now add an additional phrase to give it depth:

He made a gesture with both arms, as if holding a rifle—disturbingly realistic.

Notice how the “disturbingly realistic” does not sound shallow, but adds depth.

Here’s another example with a complex sentence:

He could only see disaster in the plan, but spoke diplomatically. 

This is much better than, “He spoke diplomatically about the disastrous plan.”  Those who warn against using adverbs have that more boring form of sentence in mind, but they don’t bother to tell you a simple change in sentence structure makes it more interesting. 

And this daring gem will give a heart attack to all those bloggers who tell you to avoid adverbs:

Painfully, wearily, I made my way along the road that runs northward out of Halliford.   

This last example of beginning a sentence with no less than two adverbs must be used sparingly, or it will become obnoxious to the reader.  But isn’t that more colorful writing?


Emily R. King said...

Great examples of fine uses of adverbs. I'm not an adverb hater. I think a well placed adverb is priceless. :)

Mark Murata said...

Thank you. I agree that, especially with longer sentences, the adjectives and adverbs grow in importance.


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