For example I began reading a science fiction book two weeks ago. It started well, I liked the premise and the writing was good. It soon became apparent that it was going to be a long book (even by scifi standards). But hey, if it was good, so what? However, by the time I got 20% in I was becoming irritated with it and by 30% I gave up. Now there were several reasons behind this. First was that the story seemed to be going round in circles with people repeating the same arguments and hence the story not getting very far. Then there were some plot elements that didn’t really make sense to me. Finally, I had issues with the writing.
As I mention, to start with the writing was OK. However, as the book progressed it was as if the writer had got bored with editing it. After about 10% -15% grammatical errors were creeping in along with some bizarre phraseology and choice of words. There were also, what I presumed, were made up words (and yes I did try to look them up to make sure), not just mistakes. The final straw though was, or so it seemed to me, the increasing and liberal use of the adverb – it had got to the point where my intolerance kicked in. I did check back and there were signs early on, just not to the point where it provoked a reaction on my part.
So, at around 30%, after a few pages of where people “moaned quietly”, “moaned cautiously”, “muttered darkly”, “admitted finally”, “simply said”, “whispered cautiously”, “whispered softly” (?), “breathed deeply”, “admonished kindly”, “chuckled quietly”, “replied hotly”, “said calmly”, “agreed weakly” not to mention descriptive sentences in which as many as three adverbs might make an appearance, I gave up.
I would say at this point that you will find adverbs in my work. Sometimes they creep in unnoticed. When I’m revising I’m on the lookout. They make me ask, am I just being lazy? Could I express that in a better way? Often the answer is yes in both cases. And in the way I write that’s fine. I tend to get the story down first and then worry the detail later. So, by the end any surviving adverb has earned its place. I’ve seen it, I know it’s there and it knows I know its there. It has survived the question “would this sentence suffer if I removed it?”
Now, just so you know that this aversion is not some genetic disorder of mine, when I started writing I was pointed in the direction of a few texts on the subject, the contents of which have stuck with me. One is Stephen King’s book on writing (excellent, can’t recommend it enough) and although I may be misquoting him it’s where the question “would this sentence suffer if I removed the adverb?” comes from. King is very much “Beware The Adverb” believing their use is often an excuse for lazy writing.
Another influence is Elmore Leonard’s “10 Rules of Writing” which I go back to every now and then to remind myself (you can find them on line if you don’t want to buy the short book). Number 4 is “Never use an adverb to modify the verb said”. He goes on “… he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin.” His point is the adverb distracts and interrupts rhythm.
So there you have it, my intolerance is out in the open and I ask again is it just me?
As always comments are welcome.