The myth of adverbs

img_2351-16You’ve heard repeatedly that adverbs are the devil and that Stephen King said the road to hell is paved with adverbs.

You also probably had an experience with an editor that said remove “was“ from your entire manuscript, or friends or critique partners have explained about what filter words are and why they ruin your story.

And you did your best to try to write and not use adverbs or filters or wases.

And then you read something like The Shining or Pet Sematary or Game of Thrones, and you said wait a minute! Game of Thrones is filled with filters!

My friend said this 100,000 word book would be 6,000 words if he would take out the filters. King used adverbs so often I was wondering if he was being ironic in his statement about how the road to hell is paved with them.

And what do we learn from this?

Well my friend said once you’ve made it big you can do whatever you want.

J. K. Rowling used lots of filters and it didn’t seem to hurt her.

And just by pointing to these three famous authors, I took away different conclusion.

I took away that if the story is strong enough, it will overcome all minor flaws.

When I used to work for a certain Fortune 500 company, they said “revenue hides all sins.”

That means, if your branch or region is making enough money, then if it’s bringing enough money, if it’s going fast enough, then $1000 that would be 10% of an expense might now only be 8% or 5% or 3%. And as a percentage, a 1% expense is not as critical as a 10% expense. Revenue has that effect. It makes all the percentages – because they are a percent against revenue, less. Therefore your numbers are better.

In other words, if you’re not bringing a lot of money and you have $1000 in expense, it’s gonna be frowned upon. But if you’re bringing in money hand over fist, that same $1000 is such a small percentage of the business, it almost becomes inconsequential.

Now, a smart manager manages those things anyway. But a smart manager manages the big things first. Priorities

So if we are obsessing over adverbs and filters while we write crappy stories, we screwed up.

And as I said repeatedly, you guys have sent me your stories. I’ve seen them. Most of them are very good. It’s the little details the trip you up. Stuff that, were you to remove it or enhance it, would take your story to the next positive step level instead of keeping it on the same plane.

That’s why people like you and I need to watch adverbs and dialogue tags and filters. Especially filters. There’s no reason George RR needed to have so many filters. He just didn’t. And maybe it was just the style and everybody said you know what, he’s got connections or whatever, I don’t care. They didn’t need to be there. Same with J. K. Rowling, but she was writing for a very different audience – and you know what? There weren’t so many that it bothered me. The story won out.

With George RR, it did bother me because I thought, you know, you’re better than this.

And I’m going to try to be better than this.

But in other areas he’s blowing the doors off, isn’t he?


What did Stephen King do that was so great?

What did J. K. Rowling do that was so great?

What did George RR do that was so great?

They came up with unique, creative story ideas.

There were wizards and witches and castles and magic before J. K. Rowling. She made little kids go on a mystery and created all kinds of new things for them to do while they were doing it.

I don’t know about horror stories before Stephen King, but he created some really creepy unsettling ideas in his horror stories.

George RR took swords and sorcery and created a new world with it – multiple worlds, I guess – and interwoven story lines – and made it very complex. That had all been done before. But he created unique and compelling characters that were fun to watch.

They did other things too, but for me that’s the gist of it.

They brought a great story idea forward.

They had the pace of that story move along quickly and in and engaging manner.

And when you’re engaged, you’re willing to forgive adverbs and filters.

So learn to write a more engaging story. Learn to write a unique idea. Fill it with interesting and engaging characters that readers care about.

And then

Scrub it for filters and adverbs.

Published by Dan Alatorre AUTHOR

USA Today bestselling author Dan Alatorre has 50+ titles published in more than 120 countries and over a dozen languages.

8 thoughts on “The myth of adverbs

  1. Will people read adverb, adjective and preposition laced-writing into the future? Using those parts of grammar, although allowed, does not make the better. And in the future writers and other people will peg those constructions as sloppy.

    Liked by 1 person

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