Dear Editor, Or: What’s With All the Hate For Adverbs, Anyway? (Writing 101, Day Fourteen)

Author’s Note: Just a little background into the theme of this writing exercise.

Pick up the nearest book and flip to page 29. What’s the first word that jumps off the page? Use this word as your springboard for inspiration. If you need a boost, Google the word and see what images appear, and then go from there. 

Today’s twist: write the post in the form of a letter.

The word on page 29 of “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt is “Suddenly.” We now have our Word for the Day…


                                                                                      Horace J. Ishkabibble

                                                                                          Acme Book Editors

                                                                                                      Scranton, PA

                                                                                                     June 19, 2014


Dear Horace,

Many thanks right off the bat for the wonderful editing work you’ve done on your first pass for my manuscript, “And the Horse You Rode In On!”. I’m delighted to learn that your sterling reputation as a first-class editor truly preceeds itself, and the attention you’ve given my manuscript – not that it really needed it…haha! – puts me greatly at ease knowing my work is in trusted and careful hands.

I do want to say, however, that your insistence on striking through any descriptive word that ends in -ly slightly dismaying. I get it: ABVERBS, BAD! Hemingway despised them. Stephen King has been quoted as saying, “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.” I understand there’s a consensus that repeatedly using adverbs is a sign of poor writing. I mean, the sentence, “She walked slowly into the kitchen” just doesn’t carry the same weight as, “She sauntered into the kitchen.” Anyone can walk slowly, but sauntering suggests something else otherwise.

But I admit that I like the word “Suddenly,” which you don’t seem to. I used it five times in the first seven chapters of my manuscript, “And the Horse You Rode In On!“, and all five times, I saw this: suddenly. One of the uses of the word, I thought was pretty apt:

Jacob read aloud from his American History textbook. “While the Louisiana Purchase signaled Napoleon’s France was desperate for cash to fuel their campaigns of conquest throughout Eastern Europe, so much so that they were willing to sell much of what would become the Great Plains of the United States for arguably far less than what they were truly worth, the Purchase endorsed and approved by President Thomas Jefferson sowed the seeds of what would inevitably become the young Federal Government’s prevailing philosophy of expansion: Manifest Destiny, a belief that both Divinity and a geographical presence would allow the Federal Government to stake its claim to all the unsettled land west of the Mississippi River.”

“Not to be confused with Destiny’s Child,” Shelley chimed in, knitting a pair of booties she was going to make for her as-yet-unborn child, not making eye contact with her baby’s daddy.

“Cute, very cute. And instead of ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ our national anthem should have been ‘Survivor,’ right?”

“Jake,” Shelley turned to him, suddenly, dropping her knitting needles. “Go get me a fly swatter. A big one. Hurry!”

Suddenly. Key word. It signals a turn of events. My goodness, what is happening now? What sort of foul being would interrupt their idyllic setting? Why would Shelley react with such terror? Take the word suddenly out, and Shelley could be just making idle chatter, or perhaps she’s prone to silly statements. The word suddenly now conveys something drastic is now afoot, and the reader’s attention is pulled into another, more important direction.

But I get it: it’s still an adverb. I’m sure there’s another way of describing that sentence without resorting to the use of an adverb. However, I must disagree. It’s perfectly fine to season your manuscript with a few, well-chosen adverbs. Think of them like a delectable garnish you’d sprinkle all over your chicken. Just enough will unlock untold flavors.

So, my point is, while I understand and appreciate the reasons why you’re suggesting the removal of adverbs like suddenly, I must respectfully decline the edit suggestions for the reasons I  have stated above. And, because, as a writer, sometimes you have to trust your instincts. I’m sure you can appreciate the sentiment.

The check’s in the mail.

Slavishly Yours,

Gus Sanchez

12 thoughts on “Dear Editor, Or: What’s With All the Hate For Adverbs, Anyway? (Writing 101, Day Fourteen)

  1. I enjoyed reading this! I just have to ask, what made you choose Scranton, PA for your publisher? I grew up *near* there, so I take an interest when someone else mentions it.

    • Think of this letter as a thinly-veiled rebuttal.

      Actually, I agree that adverbs should be as closely eliminated as possible, but sometimes, it’s okay for a few to slip through.

      Confession: I didn’t complete the adverbs assignment. I should get around to it.

  2. No, all adverbs must die.

    I once got into a huge internet kerfuffle over this issue (yes, imagine that! People on the internet arguing over something trivial!), so I won’t go there again, but adverbs just make you sound amateurish and clog up your prose. Take them out and you lose nothing.

    “Jake!” Shelley dropped her knitting needles. “Go get me a fly swatter! A big one!”

    • I think too many adverbs make you a bad writer. I can’t tell you how many commercial fiction novels I’ve read that are just riddled with adverbs. Not just bad writing, but bad editing as well.

      I’m fine with a sprinkle or two of adverbs, but only if used sparingly. More than four or five times in a book, and you’re leaning towards abuse.

      This is a source of contention for a lot of writers. Many I know are perfectly fine with adverbs. I simply roll my eyes at their delusion.

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