Monday, August 23, 2021

Adverbs: Love 'em or Leave 'em?

by Ane Mulligan @AneMulligan

This post is aimed at new writers, although we can all use a refresher now and again. In a Facebook group (Avid Readers of Christian Fiction) an author asked readers if they notice adverbs being used. The answers varied, but a few readers said they felt like they were being told what to see in the story. They didn't experience it when the author used too many adverbs. 

I like adverbs okay, if used sparingly and only in the right spot. But overuse adverbs pulls the reader out of the POV character's head. As the FB reader said, readers today want to experience the story as the character does, not simply be told the story. It makes a difference.

I thought about the first draft of the first manuscript I wrote. It was all telling. I told the story. That's okay in a first draft, but then, we need to go back through that draft and make it show the reader. 

Examples are what helped me the most in the beginning of my first edit, and so I have listed a few.

Telling: She watched a truck drive slowly past her house. She persistently feared stalkers.
Showing: A dirty white stepvan, its left side badly dented, slowed as it the house. Her heart slammed against her ribs. Please, don't let it be a stalker!

Telling: The sun rose swiftly, relieving her fears.
Showing: Golden rays shot over the horizon, painting the sky pink and orange. Morning pushed back the night and with it, the nightmares.

Telling: He slowly walked down the hallway, his heart beating rapidly.
Showing: He tiptoed down the hallway. His rapid heartbeat echoed in his ears.

Telling: She smiled sweetly.
Showing: Her smile lit her entire face and dimpled one cheek.

Telling: His new employee worked diligently beside him. She impressed him.
Showing: His new employee didn't take a break. Her diligence spoke volumes to him. 

Are my works free of all adverbs? No. However, I try to be sure the ones I do use are necessary and make the read flow. I have a list of weasel words I search and destroy during each edit.

Your turn: what adverbs do you find yourself using a lot? How do you change them?


Ane Mulligan has been a voracious reader ever since her mom instilled within her a love of reading at age three, escaping into worlds otherwise unknown. But when Ane saw Mary Martin in PETER PAN, she was struck with a fever from which she never recovered—stage fever. She submerged herself in drama through high school and college. Years later, her two loves collided, and a bestselling, award-winning novelist emerged. She resides in Sugar Hill, GA, with her artist husband and a rascally Rottweiler. Find Ane on her websiteAmazon Author pageFacebookTwitterInstagramPinterest and The Write Conversation.


  1. Thank you! Your examples are so helpful.

  2. Thank you Ane - the detailed examples are so clear. It really helps a lot. :)

  3. You helped me a great deal with your comparison of showing and telling! Thanks so much.

    1. Diane, I'm so glad it helps. It's a hard concept to grasp without some examples.

  4. This is so helpful, Ane! A great lesson for all writers.

  5. I absolutely love your examples. 😊

  6. Thanks for the reminder! Here are some adverbs I use often:
    Frequently, slowly, absolutely, definitely, really, and very.