5th Law of Joni’s writing Bible

Thou shalt remove superfluous adverbs from thy prose.

When every writer starts out, we have a tendency to whip out those lovely “ly” words (yes I am aware that lovely is an ly word) to try to get our point across.  It’s not our fault.  We learn it in grade school.  Our teachers want us to learn vocabulary and word associations by having us use adjectives and adverbs in a flooding way that can damage our writing later.  I will give you an example from my own writing.  This is an excerpt from my first attempted Novel about eight years ago.

“I hurriedly scanned the terrain for signs of life.  The silence densely lay across the charcoal ruins like a being itself, the only thing left of the woods; and the breeze that had quickly chilled me on the water had calmed to a sinister motionlessness in the forest remains.”

Yup.  I kept this original version of my story as a reminder of how bad writing can be when you are first learning your craft.  Now, please, don’t misunderstand as we move forward.   Yes, you may use adverbs, but you do NOT need them in every sentence.  One well placed adverb in an entire page can be poignant.  But over use will diminish your verb, your action, by clouding it as adjectives can cloud a subject.

Let’s see how we can rewrite these sentences without most of these adverbs.

“I hurriedly scanned the terrain for signs of life.”  Scanning something is already a quick motion.  If my character were studying the terrain, that would be a slow action.  So if we have already picked the appropriate verb, the adverb “hurriedly” becomes superfluous.   Now it would read.  “I scanned the terrain for signs of life.”

Next: “The silence densely lay across the charcoal ruins like a being itself, the only thing left of the woods;”.  Okay so I am not opposed to the word dense in this sentence, but I am opposed to densely.  We can use dense as an adjective rather than an adverb.  (And if I’m being honest I don’t like everything tacked on after the word ‘itself’.  So I will nix that also) Now it reads, “The silence lay across the charcoal ruins like a being itself;”

Last: “And the breeze that had quickly chilled me on the water had calmed to a sinister motionlessness in the forest remains.”  Yeah.  That’s just bad.  So many unnecessary words here and not just adverbs.  I will of course be getting rid of quickly and motionlessness.  But to do so will have to rearrange the sentence.  There are many ways to do this, but here is the example I’ll give you.  “The breeze that had chilled me on the water felt sinister in the forest remains.”  More concise, yes?

Lets put them all together and see what we have.

“I scanned the terrain for signs of life.  The silence lay across the charcoal ruins like a being itself; the breeze that had chilled me on the water felt sinister in the forest remains.”

We cut the word count down from 49 words to 34!  And not only did we tighten our prose, but the sentences drive the feeling better than did our wordy quickly’s and hurriedly’s.

My advise is to do a search for these types of words.  Especially “very” and “really” and then revise.   It is better, really.  (see what I did there? HA!)