Rule #3 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever


I’m dissecting the article Hunting Down the Pleonasm, by Allen Guthrie, using it as a cattle prod to search for little nasties in my manuscript.  Yep, you can join in the fun, too.  Let’s take a looksee at topic #3

3: Use strong verbs in preference to adverbs. I won’t say avoid adverbs, period, because about once every fifty pages they’re okay! What’s not okay is to use an adverb as an excuse for failing to find the correct verb. To ‘walk slowly’ is much less effective than to ‘plod’ or ‘trudge’. To ‘connect strongly’ is much less effective than to ‘forge a connection’.

This one is a bit easier to swallow.  Everyone knows about adverbs, right?  But using them is sometimes a hard habit to break.  If you find your work laden with adverbs, here is my suggestion:

1.      Make a copy of your work and save the original “just in case”

2.      Go through a chapter and delete all the adverbs.  Resist the desire to look at the sentence at this point.  Just delete.  Using the search feature and looking for “ly” will help with this. Look for “very” while you are at it, and just delete.

3.      Done?  Good! Now go back and read your chapter.  Most likely, if you’ve written a strong scene, you will not even notice they are gone.

Here’s a one sentance example from “Optimal Red”:

His heart beat rapidly in his chest as the doors opened.

His heart pulsed as the doors opened.

Go ahead!  Give it a try?  How did it go?  Were you able to strengthen your manuscript just by deleting?  Did you need to add a little more emphasis to replace the missing word?  Where did you decide to leave an adverb for flavor?



20 responses to “Rule #3 of 32 Simple Rules to the Writing the Best Novel Ever

  1. Julie Catherine

    Very true, and excellent advice, Jennifer – this is really important when you write poetry, too. Thanks for sharing with us! 🙂

    • Never thought about it in poetry. I thought you were supposed to sound flowery 🙂

      • Julie Catherine

        LOL! Actually, in poetry you have far less words available to get your message across – so you need to choose the best words possible; it’s a rule to avoid gerunds (words ending in “ing”) and adverbs (“ly” words) as much as possible, unless the line is begging for it …. 🙂

  2. I learned my lesson about adverbs the hard way. But I learned it, thank goodness. I even wrote a post about it once upon a time; take a peek if you wish:

  3. Is it bad I need to look up what an adverb is? I swear I don’t remember them teaching us this kind of thing back in school, and I was in advanced english classes! I think I skipped or missed a class somewhere along the way where they went over this. Verbs, adjectives, nouns, yes. adverbs no.

    • Funny. I had to think about it too. It’s something my brain filed as “useless information “. How’s the book coming?

      • BtB is still being polished. I found a local writing group up here since we moved in Sept, and I’m going through it with them (actually meet with them in an hour). The first third I’m pretty much good with, but I have trouble getting people to read the remaining sections 😦
        My newer novel has a better start than BtB though. I learned a lot from my earlier attempts and I think it’ll take less reworking to make it happen. It’s a sweet/sad/romantic little story and I like it. Oh and the planet might blow up at one point so there are potential explosions 😉

  4. I’m going to give this a try. I wonder how I’ll do. Thanks for the heads up.

  5. I’ll admit I’m pretty lazy about this during my first draft, but I clean it up as much as I can in my edits!

  6. Thanks for sharing, Jen. 🙂

  7. Lovely fix. I mean love the fix!

  8. Ah, always great advice.

  9. Thank you for listing my post as a related article. Great advice!

  10. this is GREATLY helpful… I am also going to check that other out. Thanks for sharing a wonderful tool!

  11. Great advice here, Jennifer. Thank you, I’m going to try it! 😀