DiscardedYKTTW Adverb Abuse YKTTW Discussion

Adverb Abuse
In which the author uses adverbs (typically with dialogue) in a clumsy or superfluous fashion
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(permanent link) added: 2011-12-01 07:36:29 sponsor: Folamh3 (last reply: 2012-11-11 18:56:01)

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"I love you, all right?" he said jokingly is miles away from "I love you, all right?" he said coldly. But avoid at all costs "I love you, all right?" he said lovingly.

"Just as adjectives describe a noun in further detail than the noun itself ('the black dog' as opposed to 'the dog'), adverbs describe an action in greater detail than the action itself ('he crept' as opposed to 'he crept quietly')," Bob said expositorily. "They can also take the noun form and achieve the same effect ('vehemently' versus 'with great vehemence'). These can be very useful when describing certain kinds of physical action, and in this context generally pass without comment, unless used very clumsily," he said knowingly. "However, when used to describe dialogue," he said, forebodingly, "they are often seen as a hallmark of Purple Prose and Bad Writing in general."

"Why is this the case?" he asked rhetorically. "Well, they are typically understood as a refuge for lazy writers," he said, informatively. "Rather than indicating how a piece of dialogue was spoken via body language, scene-setting or the content of the dialogue itself, the lazy writer simply drops in a blunt, unequivocal adverb directly after the line in question, perhaps fearful that his or her readers will not be observant to notice any of the more subtle aforementioned techniques," he said helpfully.

"As with all tropes, however," he reluctantly admitted, "this one can be used to good effect. Typically this is when the adverb indicates a manner of speaking which is incongruous with the apparent surface meaning of the dialogue itself ("'My mother just died,' he said gleefully")," he said, amusedly. "However, in negative examples, the use of the adverb just comes across as lazy and unimaginative. In the absolute worst cases, the adverb may be grossly inappropriate to the context of the dialogue," he said, murderously, "or its inclusion tells the reader absolutely nothing more than they would have known had the adverb been excluded ("'I feel sad," she said glumly.")," he explained explanatorily.

"Curiously," he said, curiously, "the use of adverbs in dialogue is much more of a no-no in screenplays than in prose. While in the latter case their use usually comes across as simply lazy or pointless," he said regretfully, "in the former case the screenwriter is actively stepping on the toes of the people who get the last word on how a line of dialogue is to be delivered - namely, the actors and the director."

"This is a Sister Trope to Said Bookism; both tropes occur for very similar reasons," he said snidely. "If one encounters a writer making frequent use of both, you can be reasonably confident you're looking at a very poor writer (or at least an extremely inexperienced one). Tom Swifty is very closely related. It is (usually) a subtrope of Purple Prose and Bad Writing. It is also related to Delusions of Eloquence and Author Vocabulary Calendar," he finished, concludingly.



  • A common criticism of J. K. Rowling's writing style; Stephen King once quipped that Rowling "never met an adverb she didn't like!"
  • How NOT to Write a Novel strongly discourages the use of adverbs (with the caveat noted above).
  • Stephen King's own guide to writing, On Writing, discourages the use of all dialogue adverbs.
  • My Immortal, a repeat offender, features examples like 'I jumped sexily in front of him.' This would be an example of how not to use adverbs when describing actions.
  • The Turkey City Lexicon notes this, referring to it as "The Tom Swifty: An unseemly compulsion to follow the word “said” with a colorful adverb, as in ‘We’d better hurry,’ Tom said swiftly."
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