Adverbs are like venomous snakes. We need them, but if we are overrun by them, it could be a painful demise. Authors have a tendency to use too many adverbs — especially (adverb) in today’s society where adverbs are totally the way to go, in all actuality.

See how adverbs can quickly (adverb) become jargon. I read a book that suggests that once we are done writing our final drafts, we should do a search for “ly” and remove it whenever possible.

I like that suggestion because whenever we are writing, we include adverbs thinking that those words are helpful, when in most cases, they may not be.

The balloon was really, really, really, red.

Ok. Soooooo why not just say that the balloon was red. What does it mean to be really red? I certainly don’t know. But if we need to be more descriptive, which we as writers should always be doing, we could try another approach.

Let’s start with colors. Colors are not just visual, but they are also emotional. Red can mean so many things, depending on the context. So let’s really get rid of “really,” and find another word.

What emotion do we want the balloon to display? Well, what does the balloon mean to the person who is watching it? Does it remind him of a romantic hot-air balloon ride? Is it something that reminds him of his father whom he hated? So many questions can determine how red the balloon is.

Here’s a list of “really” eradicators:
Romantic Red: rose-colored balloon.
Angry Red: blood-colored balloon.

These are spot-checks that we can do when we want to describe colors. In a writer’s group, I heard a person describe a stony landscape as “exceptionally flat.” What does that mean? I don’t know. When I think of flat, flatness comes to mind.

So exceptionally flat means nothing. We could think outside of the word flat if we want to show that something is unnaturally flat.

Let’s try this: The vast, stony landscape was void of any ridges or indentions making it as level and as calm as the morning sea.

Now we have an image of flatness that isn’t…well…flat.

Another problem that we have with adverbs is that they don’t allow verbs to get a job. So verbs are out on the corner thumbing rides and washing windows to pay their rent.

Here are some common usages. These aren’t all bad, but if we overuse them, they can derail our novels.

Ran Quickly: Sprinted
Moved slowly: Crept
Shook violently: Quaked

This is certainly not an exhausted list. But remember that words like “really,” “actually,” “definitely,” and even “obviously” don’t add meaning to our stories in most cases. We need to get these snakes out of our novels and replace these lazy words with verbs that actually want to work.

I hope this helps. Thanks for stopping by!


  1. rich

    if you want to see a great sample of adverb misuse – read “twilight.” there are some adverbs that i’m sure she created just by slapping “LY” at the end. many sentences go like this: “dialogue dialogue dialogue,” he said ______-LY. over and over. one of my favorites was something like, “No,” he said contrarily. another was something like: he stared out the window abstractedly.


      1. rich

        yup. serious. my kid asked me to read the book, and i read the first two – but it wasn’t easy to get through them.

  2. terry1954

    o wow, when i first glanced at the new email and saw the snake, i wanted to get up and run. i love how u used the adverb along with the snake, but i hate snakes………lol

    1. William Stadler Post author

      hahaha! Thanks, Terry! I hate snakes too! Just looking at that picture gives me the chills haha.

  3. journeyofjordannaeast

    Stupid twilight…Anyway, this was very helpful. When I write, I do only that: I write. When I edit, I take out passive voice and adverbs to strengthen the writing since I don’t have to worry about getting the story out of my head and on paper before it gives way to thoughts about Orea Cakesters or something.

    1. William Stadler Post author

      Hahaha! I know what you mean. Sometimes we just have to get out the jargon and then cipher through it all.

    1. William Stadler Post author

      I know what you mean. They feel good when you first use them, but at a second glance, you realize that there’s a better way.

  4. mollyspring

    Adverbs should be used judiciously 🙂 But a good point about reevaluating your verb or adjective if you feel the need to include an adverb with it.


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