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All along, we thought the road to Hell was paved with good intentions. Fortunately, Stephen King cleared up that misconception. Apparently, it’s actually paved with adverbs. Actually is an adverb. I may be doomed; I like the word ‘actually’. But that’s off-point.

Adverbs are a no-no in writing. It’s an argument that has been pounded home. Repeatedly. Like spices, adverbs must be used sparingly. Now, there is a bit of irony, for ‘sparingly’ is itself an adverb.

But, do we use adverbs in our regular daily speech? Yes. All the time. So, how can we write dialogue that sounds realistic without the use of adverbs? I don’t know if anyone else asks that question, but now that I’ve asked it, it lingers on the page, begging for an answer. And I intend to come up with one, right or wrong.

As an example, let’s create a character. We’ll call her Jane. Jane is upset. She wants to express this.

“I’m upset.”

Okay. Somehow that fails to impress. Even Jane isn’t happy with it. She feels the need to clarify:

“I’m really upset.”

Better, but Jane has used an adverb. Bad Jane. We’re scowling at her. She doesn’t care; she adds insult to injury by saying:

“I’m really very upset.”

Now, we’re getting upset. At Jane. But what can she do? She’s really very upset and needs a way to express it. If we tell her adverbs are not allowed, what will she do?

“I am upset to the highest degree.”

Okay, Jane, but nobody talks that way.

“I’m highly upset? Inordinately upset? Extremely upset?”

No, Jane. No, no, no. May we suggest a different word? How about if you are furious? Depressed? Horrified? Devastated?

“No, I am none of those things. I’m just upset. Really very upset. Horribly upset. Truly.”

Much as we hate arguing with our character, a constructive debate is necessary at this point. Jane, how about if you leave out the adverbs and just do something to show that you’re upset? You know the advice: show, don’t tell.

“I’m upset.” Jane slaps me in the head and kicks my co-author in the shin.

Ow! Jane, you’re losing the gist of the dilemma here. You’re getting emotionally involved in our little exercise, which is unprofessional.

Jane eyes us with scorn, arms crossed, foot tapping. She raises a haughty, challenging brow. “Your adverb rule is not only appalling, but entirely despicable. Despicably despicable.”

Can you say that without using an adverb, Jane?

“The despicability of your adverb rule is colossal and without equal in its despicableness.”

(sigh) Fine, but again, nobody talks that way, Jane. You need to relate better to the reader.

“Can you relate to this?” Jane makes an obscene gesture.

Jane, now that’s just childish.

It’s become clear that we can’t work with Jane. The relationship has deteriorated. Therefore, we now introduce a new character: an unsavory chap named Jack. Jack sneaks up behind Jane, wraps a steely arm around her neck, and drags her away to an unknown destination. Bye, Jane.

And that concludes today’s enlightening discussion of adverbs.

Stay tuned for an upcoming conversation about gerunds.


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