How To Write Vivid Scenes: Avoid Unnecessary Adverbs

How to Write Vivid Scenes: Avoid Unnecessary Adverbs | Tips for recognising when adverbs are unnecessary, and the damage they do to your writing.

(Video transcript)

I’m sure most writers have heard the advice that they should cut out adverbs from their writing and there are a few reasons why they should take this advice on board but I’m going to focus on the simple fact that unnecessary words complicate the picture you’re trying to give your reader.

If we read a whole sentence before stopping and thinking “what did that mean?”, it would take a century to read a novel. So instead, we start forming the picture in our heads as we read the sentence. When a verb comes before an adverb, the reader has already started imagining the action. Then you go and add more information and they have to start imagining the action all over again so that it’s consistent with your adverb. This might be unconscious and it might take a fraction of a fraction of a second, but it’s still a distraction. It still makes the writing weak.

When you can replace a verb and adverb with a stronger verb, your message is clearer and your reader can envision it properly the first time, making the scene they’re reading more vivid.

Remember this is not a rule, it’s just advice, and it can’t always be followed. If there’s no verb that replaces your verb and adverb combo, it’s perfectly fine to use an adverb. Or if you want to put the spotlight on how something happened rather than what happened, it’s perfectly fine to use an adverb. Just remember that the clearer and tighter your message is, the more vivid your scene will be. And that’s why we tell writers to cut adverbs from their writing.


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