“Let’s talk about adverbs,” he said, swiftly
A couple of posts ago, I mentioned Stephen King’s splendid book On Writing, and referenced his personal ban – which I think he’d like extended – on adverbs.
“The adverb is not your friend” he said, adding, “the road to hell is paved with adverbs and I will shout it from the rooftops.” Loudly, no doubt.
I’ve since discovered (because I have never been aware of it) that my own writing does include adverbs. Not that many, I don’t think, but too many to please Stephen King (for whom I have, lest it be doubted, the utmost respect).
King’s dislike of adverbs comes down to his dislike of sloppy writing; he thinks there is nearly always a better way of indicating how an action is being carried out, which is all that adverbs do.
But I’m not sure, now, that King isn’t overreacting somewhat. Earlier today, I wrote, “He waved his fist limply.” Realising I had transgressed the King’s Law, I reconsidered the sentence and realised that “limply” was exactly how the character had waved his fist and that the adverb would stand. There are others that I found. None offended me.
To further illustrate his point, King makes reference to the favourite old game of creating “Tom Swifties”, named after the adventure books by Victor Appleton. Appleton was probably over-fond of using adverbs to describe how someone said something, apparently terrified of using the word “said” on its own.
“Come here,” said Tom, gruffly.
That sort of thing. It has given rise to endless joke variations. There’s about a million on the web, but I’ll give you a handful of my favourites.
“It’s pretty windy today,” said Tom, breezily.
“I think someone’s turned the heating up,” said Tom, hotly.
“My bicycle wheel has broken,” Tom spoke out.
“I might as well be dead,” Tom croaked.
“I’ll have a martini,” said Tom, drily.
Years ago I lived in Sydney, Australia and the Sydney Morning Herald asked readers for suggestions. I was thrilled when mine was printed. Obviously I still remember it and relish the opportunity to boast about it at every chance:
“There’s just no atmosphere up here,” said Major Tom with an explanatory air.
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