You know, those pesky little helper words that make up 75% of most English Comp I papers. Those things that you’re supposed to limit as much a possible if you write genre fiction. Those things that can take a tight 2000 word short story and turn it into a 2500 word crap-fest if you’re not careful.
Yes, we all hate them.
Yes, we all know you’re never ever ever ever supposed to use them if you’ve read Stephen King’s On Writing – A Memoir Of The Craft. And yes, we all continue to use them if we’re not careful.
I think the biggest problem with adverbs is that when misused, they can pull the reader out of the story. As soon as a few of those -ly words start creeping into your prose, you’re telling the reader “Hey, look, you’re reading story!”
In other words, your story stops being real once it fills up with adverbs. In real life, people don’t use a lot of adverbs when they talk. So why should you that when you write?
Trust me when I say that a reader will stop feeling the story as soon as the language seems phony.
Try this: Read your story out loud from beginning to end. You’ll be able to better pick out any phony stuff.
It’s “Show, don’t tell” remember?
Telling the reader a character did something “quickly” or said something “happily” doesn’t do anything to convey the message or action you’re trying get across.
In fact, it’s lazy writing.
I’m not calling you lazy, but I am saying a potential agent might think your prose is.
To fix, try finding another, more descriptive, way of saying something. Don’t tell us a character “silently walked up the stairs.” Describe her holding her breath as she slides a foot across the top of the step, afraid of making the tiniest sound and waking the serial killer.
So what else can you do?
Go through your draft again and pick out the verb in every sentence. How vivid is it? If it’s so bland that that you need to add a helper word to it, pick a better verb.
And look for redundancy. You don’t need to say “quickly ran” since the act of running implies quickness.
It’ll take practice, but it will get easier and in the end, you’ll have smoother, more natural writing.