Writing Well: Magical Modifiers

Of course adverbs can be overused, but the common advice to never use them at all is misguided.

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road hell adverbsEvery once in a while, you come across a discovery that gives you the opportunity to transform your writing. This post is about just such a discovery.

The road to hell is paved with adverbs, so says Stephen King. And, who am I to argue with Mr. King.

In Dead Poet’s Society, Robin Williams’ character, John Keating, forbids his students to use the word very (the most heinously bland and meaningless modifier of them all), “… because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose.”

The case against adverbs is a strong one, with revered authors from every era and genre giving impassioned testimony against this eternal enemy of good writing:

  • “Adverbs are another indication of writing failure. Exactly the right verb can eliminate the need for the adverb.” William Sloane
  • “Omit needless words. Watch for adverbs that merely repeat…

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3 thoughts on “Writing Well: Magical Modifiers”

  1. Another time when adverbs can work is in the construction of voice in fiction. Let’s face it, people use them in speech all the time and if we writers carefully weed them out, the prose will sound sharp, but we might not want that. Sometimes those inarticulate or empty modifiers are necessary in establishing a character…most likely a younger/uneducated POV. Of course, the use of these in this circumstance would be in dialogue or close 3rd person limited.


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