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Adverbs, and Other Words To Run Away From Fast

February 11, 2012


It’s not that they’re worse than other words. I’m not bullying them. It’s just how you use them.

Adverbs are a short-cut, but that can quickly turn into laziness. You get ‘ran quickly’ instead of ‘raced’ or ‘rushed’ (what is ‘running slowly’, anyway?). It’s easier to pick an adverb than to find a more descriptive, fitting verb; but in the end it stifles the writing.

Vague Words

Words like ‘quite’, ‘rather’, ‘sort of’, ‘kind of’ and ‘a little bit’ make descriptions seem vague and like you don’t know what you mean. Conversely, words like ‘very’ and ‘really’ rely on you emphasising your description without just writing better.

I also bet that 99% of the time, the word ‘suddenly’ does not need to be there. Go on. Check. I’ll wait.

Character Tics

When I got my dissertation draft back, my tutor had scribbled all over it ‘Please no one roll their eyes again. Please.’

All those little pauses between dialogue when characters are really just talking but you want to give them time to react can add up. You don’t notice them, but readers will. A particularly prevalent one is looking into each other’s eyes, meeting their gaze, or searching their face. It reads like everyone can’t stop staring at each other, gormless. Try more interesting, realistic reactions in conversation.


At school we’re taught to avoid ‘said’. Any word but ‘said’. ‘Ejaculated’ is better than ‘said’ (and guaranteed to get a snigger, too). So you experiment, and soon characters are exclaiming, growling, whispering, and extolling all over the place.

But published fiction doesn’t look like that. Open up your favourite books, and 80-90% of the time they only use ‘said’ or ‘asked’ (‘replied’ is a less common one). Does that ever bug you? Are you ever left wishing you knew how a character delivered a line of dialogue?

If the book is good enough, the answer is usually no. Well-written speech advertises itself – characters sound unique, and their tone is clear from the situation and the language they use.Try working on voice, or write a whole piece using only dialogue to practice.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2012 10:19 pm

    Can I just say, I used to feel weird if my characters DIDN’T do some kind of redundant action between sentences. I realise now that people talk. They don’t always dance around like a Sim whilst doing it. So guilty of this.

    • April 12, 2012 10:51 am

      Yeah, I’ve been guilty of all of these BIG TIME in the past – especially people acting totally neurotic in conversation; scratching their ears, fiddling wih stuff on tables.


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