Replacing adverbs with other bits of language where possible is considered good writing form, even though I firmly (see what I did there?) believe that adverbs have their places in good writing if they’re not overused. If you need to manage adverbs in your prose, here’s a simple guide to making the switch.
1. Show the action.
Some adverbs modify an action that can be better stated as a fact. For example,
“I’d like that one, please,” Molly said shyly.
“I’d like that one, please,” Molly whispered, scuffing the toe of her shoe in the dirt.
Although “Molly said shyly” gives you an idea about Molly’s personality, her character comes to life when you show the reader Molly’s body language rather than just describing her character traits. By replacing adverbs with a factual description, the reader can ‘see’ Molly scuffing that shoe in her mind’s eye, making her more believable and more real.
2. Smell the roses.
Some adverbs are sense-oriented. Replacing them with a well-turned phrase can immerse your reader in the experience of your story.
The bell rang sonorously across the square.
The deep booming of the church bell reverberated across the square.
Take it further:
The deep booming of the church bell reverberated across the square, making the space between my ribs tingle and hum.
In this case, removing the adverb allows the writer to dig deeper into the atmosphere of the story, immersing the reader in the experience of the sound. In the last sentence, the reader ‘hears’ the sound (deep booming), gets a description of the way the sound behaves (reverberated), and gets to ‘feel’ the sound (making the space between my ribs hum and tingle).
Let’s try another:
The odor of sweetly-scented roses drifted through the garden.
The honeyed scent of roses drifted though the garden like sugarplums through a toddler’s dreams.
Replacing adverbs with a an adjective plus adding a simile adds impact. In this sentence the simile “like sugarplums through a toddler’s dreams” underscores the sweetness of the scent and the adjective “honeyed” gives us an actual flavor to consider. This helps the reader imagine more fully the scene you’re setting.
The more of a reader’s senses you can engage: touch, sight, taste, smell, hearing–the more engaging your writing will be and the more real your story will become. Still, don’t go about replacing adverbs willy-nilly: Some adverbs are fine, and even necessary, to avoid awkward language. Too many writers are taught to see adverbs as a huge no-no. They’re not your enemy. They’re a tool that, if wielded with care, can add impact to your writing. Truly. (Just couldn’t help myself there!)
See you on the next page!