Weak Words: Just the Adverb, Ma'am

I had this post planned awhile ago but all I saved was the title. I vaguely remember what it was about, but it ties well into a discussion I am having with Liz Poole about feedback I received recently.

First, here's a general rule that I learned the hard way. If you are going to critique, never rewrite the person's work. You can suggest subtractions and you can point out instances where things need to improve, but NEVER actually try to improve them yourself. It is not your work. If you try to rewrite, not only will the author ignore that feedback, he/she will ignore ALL your feedback. You are no longer critting. You're saying that it's not the way you would have done it, which is different.

Second, NOT ALL ADVERBS ARE BAD! I know people treat Stephen King's ON WRITING like a writing bible, but it was not chiseled in stone. His comment not to use adverbs is a hyperbole, trying to show you how much weaker adverbs make your sentences than other means of writing. When you tell someone "never do that" what you're hoping is that the don't do it very often instead of doing it all the time, which is what King is doing here. You're using an adverb instead of a stronger verb. Go use the stronger verb instead.

Strangely, what I see happening as a reaction to this order from on high is that authors are overwriting. They are using entire sentences (sometimes paragraphs) to describe what they could have with a single adverb. While imagery and strong verbs are great, I don't need you stopping the story ever other paragraph so you can wax poetic with your non-adverb.

There are adverbs I enjoy, just for the sound of them (punctiliously in particular). Best selling authors use them, if you're tethered to having a justification for using a type of word that is a valid part of English grammar. Set your adverb meter to two, but if you're going to offer critiques, pinging something just because it's an adverb is lame. Your goal is to help the author attain the strongest writing possible. Rote regurgitation is not how that's accomplished.