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Storymill Publishing Adjectives & Adverbs

Adjectives & Adverbs Use in Fiction Writing

Description is what brings scenes alive. The uses of clean descriptions results in a picture in the reader’s mind - imagery. Adjectives can assist with imagery. It is essential each word you choose adds to the reader’s mental picture of your character, his actions or surroundings. Using specific language allows you to enhance the readers experience and fire his imagination, while keeping it on track with the details you wish to fill out your scenes. Use of adjectives should be limited to one or two at a time. Adverbs and dialogue attributions generally weaken your writing. Strive to eliminate them where ever possible. Control of your imagery will result in stimulating and multi-layered scenes.


Identifing Adjectives & Adverbs

Adverbs are words that modify something other than a noun. Adjectives modify nouns and pronouns. There are also words that both an adjective and an adverb. Like everything else in the English language, there are also some exceptions to these rules. But they will suffice for our purposes.

*If you can put the word in one or both of the blanks in the following sentences, it’s an adjective and not an adverb.

He was very______. It was very_______.

To identify most adverbs, you can ask yourself “How”. If the word answers that question, there is a good chance it’s an adverb. A large majority of adverbs end with "ly".

Why You Should Write Without Adjectives & Adverbs

The use of adverbs and adjectives leads to telling, instead of showing. Thus, they contribute to lazy writing and can draw the reader out of the story.

One way to see if you are suffering from lazy writing is to read your words without adjectives or adverbs.
Now read them with the adjectives or adverbs inserted.
If you gain no additional information by including the adjectives or adverbs, then they are simply taking up space.
If they provide more information, see if you can come up with a noun or verb that will do the job just as well, or perhaps better.

If they contain the thought that’s already in the noun or verb they modify, they do not improve the sentences, they only take up space.

Example: He spoke quietly.

Asking ourselves “How” the answer is quietly, so we know this is modifying the word spoke. The modifier does provide more information. Spoke is a verb, the “ly” also indicates this is an adverb. So we need to get it out. So again, ask yourself “How”? To speak quietly is to whisper.

Results: He whispered. Whispered is a stronger verb, it allows us to tighten and shorten the sentence. By using specific nouns and verbs you can say the things you'd otherwise resort to using adverbs to say.


Find and Replace

Use the “Find and Replace” function in Word to locate “ly” adverbs. Type in the letter "L", the letter "Y", and then a space.

Click on find.

It will probably surprise you how many it will find. Remove them. Use stronger verbs, as shown in our example, to replace them.

Adjectives and adverbs have their place. Strategic use will cause your prose to draw in the reader and strengthen your writing.




* The Essentials of English fifth edition.