The Dogma of Adverbs

A friend of mine recently posed a question about whether the use of adverbs was appropriate in writing or not.  This was my reply:

Words, like anything else, are simply tools to be applied at the right time to the right task.  As writers, deliberately forgoing a particular word or class of words eliminates a viable option from our available assets.  Doing so is undeniably stupid if you wish to have deeply rich characters making their subtly or poignantly satisfying passage through tales both pulpy and sublime.

I hear people often quote King who openly criticizes adverbs.  Like a flock mindlessly pandering to a zealous demagogue, writers both young and/or foolish take up this dogma as a rallying cry to lay the sacrilegious linguistic constructs upon a sanctimonious pyre and see those words make their way into the heavens in a pall darkly shifting smoke.  Yet these very same writers then claim to be artisans of the written word.

I submit that anything, any word or phrase used too frequently, inappropriately or lazily, is a sin against the craft itself.  Certainly, “too frequently” is a matter of opinion, and we all know it when we see it.  But, experientially, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

As in most things, informed and deliberately applied moderation is paramount.  Furthermore, going over the top can illicit a point better than any other means.  Without a doubt, an adverb can make or break a sentence.  It can raise an image to lofty heights that tantalize the imagination or drop it into a pit of ignominy from which there is no return.

Beware of people who deal in absolutes of “thou shalt” or “thou shalt not.”  We’re artists.  There is nothing under the sun that lies outside our purview when it comes to expressing ourselves, and yes, that is an absolute, but I consider it an open-ended one that frees our creativity rather than binding it to someone else’s notion of propriety.

Learn your craft and utilize every tool at your disposal.



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