When you spot an adverb kill it and change the verb

If you’ve read any book on writing and style development, you are familiar with the rule to avoid adverbs.

As a novice writer, I’ve always wondered why is that the case, but the more experienced I became with editing the more clear it became.

Let’s look at some examples which you might find in your first drafts.

He went to the hospital quickly.

The verb in this sentence represents an action; someone moved from one place to the other and this verb is strengthened with the adverb – quickly. Quickly represents the sense of urgency.

But, we don’t like adverbs, right? It’s not that we don’t like all adverbs and on all occasions, but if their purpose is to inflate a weak verb, then we absolutely need to get rid of them.

He went to the hospital quickly.

It looks better, doesn’t it?

But, now we don’t have the sense of urgency. The guy might have gone to do his yearly medical checkup, while in the first sentence he might have been rushing to the hospital because he was bleeding. Yes, you’re right.

But, wait, what did you say? … he might have been rushing to the hospital?

Let’s try that verb.

He rushed to the hospital.

Now, we’ve got it! Not only that we removed the adverb, but we also used a much stronger verb.

Instead of a verb to rush, we could’ve used to run, to hurry, to sprint, and if you we wanted to get creative, we could’ve used to fly, to teleport, to charge, but don’t go overboard with that.

Now we can have a sentence like:

He flew to the hospital.

Which might or might not work, depends whether you character could actually fly and for that reason I would stick with the:

He rushed to the hospital. or He hurried to the hospital.

Let’s look at another example.

He looked at me questionably.

Again, we have a vague verb and thus if we want to keep it and further describe the action, we need to pair it with an adverb.

This sentence is a sign or a weak writing. Beginner writers add more than one adverb to make their sentence sound more poetic, but that has nothing to do with poetry.

Look at this:

He looked at me questionably, thoroughly, and suspiciously.

Just because you have a set of words ending with the same syllable doesn’t mean that your writing is poetic. It’s imprecise.

Let’s get rid of all the adverbs and see how can we enhance this simple sentence:

He stared at me.

This might work but let’s examine further:

He examined me;

He scanned me;

He glared at me;

He beamed me;

He x-rayed me;

They are all precise. Now, it’s just a matter of preference and the situation you wish to describe.

If you’re at psychologist, you might say:

He examined me.

If your character came drunk to work, his coworker might have glared at him.

Now, when should we use adverbs? Is there a time and place for a single adverb?

Yes, don’t avoid adverbs by all means. Use them when there is no option of removing them. Meaning, use them carefully.