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  • Kyle V. Hiller

Thinking more 'deeply' about adverbs and nuance

There are a million blogs about how to avoid using adverbs. Just go to Google, and you can find plenty of information on it. That’s not what this is. This here is a post about what adverbs reveal about us as writers. It’s a glance at what may be happening in our writerly hearts when we resist being told not to use adverbs and use them anyway.

Heavier use of adverbs unveils a bigger problem: we aren’t confident as writers.

By definition, an adverb is “a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc.”

Look at it this way: adjective + verb = adverb.

But seriously, think about it. Stephen King says that adverbs pave the way to hell. That may be true. But they may pave the way to someplace darker: adverbs are the bricks to our own personal restrictions.

When we use adverbs, we’re avoiding thinking and contemplating our characters: why do they do the things that they do? Why are they doing it this way? Why does this MacGuffin glisten so brightly? Why does someone speak so freely?

Adverbs are opportunities for nuances instead. But nuances takes deep thought and consideration.

Your character speaks freely because, for so much of their life previously, they weren’t listened to or they had their voice squandered by someone they looked up to. And then! What if that person was a terrible role model and your character came to realize that? By thinking about that adverb, you’ve found a potential seed for backstory, or even better, character growth that blossoms in the plot.

Consider the definition again. Adverb expresses a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, and degree. How does your subject relate to all those? And why? Consider that next time you’re revising and you come across some adverbs, and you'll become more confident in your writing, your characters, and your story elements!

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