Saturday Study: King on adverbs

It’s been a while since I’ve dove back into the long list of quotes I distilled from Stephen King’ On Writing. And given the way my life has been going I thought I could use a reminder of just how complicated even the simplest of subjects can be. It’s never black and white. And on that note…

Everyone and their brother can quote King “the road to hell is paved with adverbs.” It’s practically tattooed on every author’s tongue so it can slip off in casual conversation. LOL

So what is an adverb? Google says an adverb is a word or phrase that modifies or qualifies an adjective, verb, or other adverb or a word group, expressing a relation of place, time, circumstance, manner, cause, degree, etc.

That’s doesn’t sound so bad to me and certainly not an appropriate paving material for a road, whatever the destination. But King insists “While to write adverbs is human, to write he said or she said is divine.” (128)

So he’s against complicated dialogue tags. Ok, I can see that. Makes total sense.

But King admits he uses adverbs himself.

When I do it, it’s usually for the same reason any writer does it: because I am afraid the reader won’t understand me if I don’t. I’m convinced that fear is at the root of most bad writing. (126)

Ahh. So if I am concerned the reader might not understand me, I should look for a way to rewrite that doesn’t use an adverb? But here’s where it starts to get complicated.

Good writing is often about letting go of fear and affectation. Good writing is also about making good choices when it comes to picking the tools you plan to work with. (128)

Could I let go of the fear that someone might criticize my adverb use? If good writing is letting go of fear and affectation, then I – you should write what feels appropriate to the novel you are creating. The best arguement for writing what works for you is this…

Even at it’s best writing almost always falls short of full meaning. Given that, why in God’s name would you want to make things worse by choosing a word which is only cousin to the one you really wanted to use? (118)

Write what works, road to hell be damned.

What do you think about adverbs?