Dangerous Adverbs…

A few weeks ago, I read a blog post listing words to remove from your writing: really, very, literally, etc. (primarily but not exclusively adverbs). It was an interesting list and I see the advantage of removing these extraneous words from descriptive text. But my fiction involves a great deal of dialog and I want my characters to sound like real people. That means they may default to “you know what I mean”; “that’s literally the problem”; “really, really, really” and the dreaded “like.”

We all fall into lazy or nervous speech patterns that are less-than-stellar. In my efforts to create realistic dialog, I’m riding the line between all the unfinished thoughts, sentence fragments and sloppy grammar of real life conversations and dialog that reflects my characters’ intelligence, education and backgrounds.

It’s a balancing act. In order to sound authentic, some characters will say, “It was literally the worst thing that could happen!” OR “I was like there but not there.” Of course, if the character is supposed to be an eloquent, elegant speaker the very, really, literally, etc. are gone with the swoop of a red pen.

It’s a funny dilemma. When an even-tempered character whispers, “Now, I’m getting very angry” is the word ‘very’ needed? Maybe it’s not, but it certainly sounds like someone with a long fuse losing his patience.

Please share any thoughts on dialog. I’m “literally” waiting with baited breath.

Seeking balance between REAL & Really...

Seeking balance between REAL & Really…



  1. I’m still exploring dialogue myself, but I object to the ‘no adverbs’ rule on principle. Adverbs are an integral part of language. They are there to be used. When, where and how often are different questions entireLY!

    I once proof read some writing that had at least two adverbs in every sentence. Painful. And lazy, because there were better ways of getting the message across. That said, however, there are times when there is no ‘better’ way, meaning that not using an adverb leaves the sentence horribly convoluted, or dry.

    And then, as you say, there’s dialogue. I’d far rather read dialogue [with adverbs] that paints a vivid picture of the person speaking than one [without adverbs] that sounds stilted and unrealistic.

    In a word – GO FOR IT!

    • Candy Korman

      I agree!
      The Stephen King quote about the road to hell being paved with adverbs is a qualified condemnation. Like chili peppers and anchovy paste, a little adverb goes a long way, but it can be delicious if used at the right times. I think dialog is the most logical time for an adverb. All those little qualifying LY words are part of normal speech.

      Still, red-penning adverbs out of descriptive text and replacing them with more descriptive adjectives and verbs is a good exercise to try when reworking a paragraph. It could yield a more precise description.

      • I actually quite like adverbs…except when they’re used as verbal shortcuts. lol In that sense, they’re like one-word cliches. Perfect for speech, but for everything else I’d rather take the scenic route. 😀

        • Candy Korman

          I was drafting a few posts for my ‘blog bank’ last night and hovered over the world REALLY. It was in a conversational blog post and it feels right. Will I nix it right before I post it? Um… that might happen, but it ‘really’ sounded right!

  2. Though you might get a more precise description without the use of adverbs would it hold the same colour an adverb can bring. Since they’re such an integral part of the speech we hear on the streets every day (well they would be if I went out) ( anyway film and TV scripts are littered with them according to what I hear on TV) there seems to me to be no reason they shouldn’t be there when our characters speak.
    xxx Massive Hugs xxx

  3. I like using the Hemingway App to help me search and destroy my adverbs, but I always leave some in for the reasons you mentioned. Plus, sometimes you just need that extra word to give the sentence some rhythm!

    • Candy Korman

      The RHYTHM! Yes, yes, yes… really yes!

      The poetry in descriptive text and the beat of spoken words is all about music. Last night I was speaking to an old friend. She no longer lives in the New York area and she was describing both the different content and the different style of speaking in her new home town. I could hear Long Island and Brooklyn in the poetry of her speech patterns and the impact of the West Coast on her vocabulary. The repetitions of certain words is an element in poetry and song. In some ways she was singing a frustrating song about being someplace that should be lovely, but is not HOME.