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Writing Newbie Tip: Adverbs can also indicate you’re telling


Photo by Rae Grimm (bloodylery)

I’m a relatively new writer learning the craft and am painfully aware I have a long way to go. I learn new things every day. This post today is for new writers like me, because often I think more experienced writers forget what it’s like when you’re first learning. They already know so many tools and methods that a lot of it is now instinctual and so might not think to state things that are obvious to them.

One thing I’ve noticed as I write, edit and critique other work is that I can learn something conceptually, but until it clicks I haven’t really learned it. Case in point is the writer’s bugaboo: adverbs.

We’ve all read and heard that you should avoid adverbs when possible. This won’t be the usual admonition to scrutinize each one to make sure you’re not using a weak verb. I think that concept is easily grasped once a newbie reads about it.

Sometimes, though you’ll run across a little more in-depth tip that tells you adverbs may also indicate you’re telling. Okay, so I read that handy tip but it didn’t quite sink in as something I really understood until I finally saw a piece in my own writing earlier this summer that made me sit up and go “oh, dummy!” The passage was when my hero was picking the lock on a desk drawer. I had him pull out his nice leather pouch of picks (starting to show, good) but then I stopped the showing short by concluding that sentence with ‘and he went expertly to work’ — When I came across that I thought of how I could show that he was an expert and not just tell, so I did some quick research online and then rewrote it to show him picking out a certain tool and then closing his eyes as he listened to the tumblers, etc. I never said he was an expert, but, hopefully, I showed that he was by how he did the job.

BEFORE (From the second draft):

Taking out his set of lock picks enclosed in a soft leather pouch, he went expertly to work. Soon the lock and drawer opened with a satisfying click and rasp of wood against wood. A leather-bound journal was the sole occupant. Surely this would have the evidence he sought.

AFTER (From the third draft):

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