Bad Phrases in Writing 2: Adverbs!
To follow from last time I did this, let’s talk about words to strike from writing. Many writing books worth their salt will tell you to kill adverbs, and with good reason: they make it easy to suck as a writer, as they open the door to laziness.
Let’s go with a few to illustrate:
- obviously — if you have to say “this is obvious,” either that’s unnecessary or it’s really not
- impossibly — this is not a synonym for very. Saying, for instance, “impossibly dark” is a wince-worthy phrase that you don’t see (for good reason) outside of crappy fantasy.
- uniquely — also not a synonym for very. (This is similar to saying “somewhat unique” — the word “unique” has a binary meaning, and isn’t a synonym for “rare.”)
- usually — this is an oft-overused word, one that can be easily cut.
- very — this is, more often than not, dull. It’s “telling, not showing” as the old adage says. Similar: all synonyms and faux-synonyms of very.
- (same as verb) — anything like “runs quickly” or “brags haughtily”. The rule: if you remove the adverb and the sentence doesn’t change meaning, then you don’t need it.
The trick with adverbs is understanding when to use them, and that comes first with killing those you’re overusing. Take the last document you wrote — short story, game text, whatever. Look for all the adverbs you’re using. List all the ones you’re using once and the ones you’re using more than once.
For those you’re using more than once, try to go the next three pieces without using them, and watch how that impacts your writing. For those you used just once, go the next piece without using those either.
My fellow editors: what other adverbs go on your chopping block? Are there situations where you keep them?