Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Guest blogger Kristin Molnar: 'Admiral Adverb and Captain Redundancy'

Please give a big shout out to my very special guest blogger, all the way from beautiful NC, Kristin Molnar!

The words flow very quickly out of my mind, through the ends of my rapidly typing fingers, and end up on the page. They let me weave wildly entertaining stories, create brand new worlds, and describe the lives of completely compelling characters. When I sit down, I never know what the day will bring. The best laid plans go wildly astray, and I end up in a wonderland I never really expected. Those are, undoubtedly, the best days.

Admiral Adverb took over in that paragraph. He took my passionate dissertation on why I love to write and made it weak. Adverbs can modify our verbs, adjectives, clauses, sentences and even other adverbs. They can also dilute and distract, or be a crutch for lazy writing.

Suddenly is a lazy of way of transitioning. There is always a stronger way to word a sentence that includes this word. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door. Okay, knocks on the door are sudden if we don’t expect them, but wouldn’t it sound better like this: The knock on the door startled her out of her revery. It conveys more detail and shows the reader how sudden the event was. There was a strange man suddenly standing in front of Joan. Can become: Joan jumped. The man standing before her had been nowhere in sight just a second ago. Where did he come from?

Dialogue tags are another lazy habit. “I hate you,” John said angrily. That is telling. Show them. “I hate you,” John said, throwing a book at Kate’s head. Not only do we know John’s angry, we know how angry. He is angry enough to throw a book at Kate’s head.

Then there is the redundancy that crops up with adverbs. We waste our words on trite things, like whispered softly. Do you whisper loudly? If you did, would that then, still be a whisper? Here is a list of redundant adverb use: blossomed slowly, softly caressed, whispered softly, blarred loudly, clenched teeth tightly, carefully examines, successfully obtained, berate harshly. Redundancy waters down the writing and can come off lazy or unprofessional to a critical reader. As writers, we want to give our readers the best, so don’t use adverbs as filler just be beef up your word count.

I’ve also made a list of some common offenders that weaken our work and included a stronger word to take their place.
ran swiftly - sprinted, dash, hurry, scamper, charged
frowned angrily - scowled, frown, glare, grimace
quickly - hurried, raced, ran, bolted
spoke softly - whispered, mutter, mumble

Use the right noun and verb and you don’t need to water down your work with adverbs. I used http://www.users.qwest.net/~yarnspnr/writing/adverbs/adverbs.htm to get some of this information. It was an interesting site. A google search of adverb overuse will yield an abundance of resources with suggestions on how to avoid weakening your work by abusing the adverbs.

All of that being said, a well placed adverb can be a wonderful thing. If purple prose gets your point across, or is a character trait in dialogue, then by all means, use it. Use those adverbs only when they strengthen your work and your readers will appreciate them all the more.

Check out Kristin's website or follow her on Twitter:
Twitter: @KLMolnar


  1. This a great post, Kristin. I really try to get rid of those pesky words. My favorite of mine was trio of three wagons... Need I say more. :)

    I guess we just try to make our point more clear and think the more words we use, the clearer it's going to be.

    Thanks for all of the good ideas.

  2. Excellent post! I think we all need to be reminded about adverbs every now and then.