Writing Books/Adverb use


I’m having a problem with adverbs in short stories. (he said, shyly.)

I want to enter some of my stories in contests, but they are usually limited to a specific word length. In longer stories, I try to use adverbs only when I want to make the attributive statement contradictory.

EX: “That was fun,” he said, angrily.

Otherwise, I will write something like:  

“I like that.” He had a sarcastic tone in his voice, as if it was a challenge.

But in short stories, I might be forced to write:
“I like that,” he said, sarcastically.

Do I go for the brevity and take the chance that I am losing something, or do I temper the prose in a short story with a mixture of adverbs and adverbial statements?

What about novels? I read about five books a month and I’ve seen some books heavy in adverbs and others not. However, some of these are not recent publications. Is the current trend towards more adverbs, less, or a blend of both writing styles?

Thank you. (he said, respectively.)

I’m so glad you asked me this question, because I have an answer you probably would not expect. Before I get to the answer, though, first I have to address the issue of the comma in the examples of attributions. Take it out! The correct punctuation would be this: “I like that,” he said sarcastically.

Okay, now let’s look at the issue of adverbs. As you figured out, contemporary writers shun adverbs and write much tighter than writers of old. Brevity is in; wordiness is out.

How can you get your point across without using adverbs? Every time you have an urge to use an adverb, stop and ponder the verb it was going to modify. Choose a more descriptive or action-filled verb, and the adverb becomes superfluous. Consider this sentence, for example: Tom walked hurriedly to the door. Take out the adverb and choose a more descriptive verb, and the sentence has more punch: Tom raced to the door. Tom hurried to the door. Tom dashed to the door. Look at all your options and pick a strong verb, and the adverb won’t be missed.

The problem is that adverbs tell, rather than show, and skilled writers of today show a story, rather than tell it.

As for adverbs in attributions, also called tags, devise other ways of showing what the speakers mean. I don’t like leaning on the old “in a (whatever) tone,” because it not only tells, but it also grows repetitive. For stronger writing, use the character’s actions to show (rather than tell) what the character means. Instead of “I like that,” he said sarcastically, the rewrite might go something like this: He clenched his teeth and rolled his eyes. “Well, I certainly like that,” he said. An alternative might be this: He jammed his fists into his hips. “You know how much I like that,” he said.

"You're welcome," she said respectfully!

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Yours in writing,
Bobbie Christmas

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Bobbie Christmas


Book Doctor Bobbie Christmas owns Zebra Communications, a book-editing firm in metro Atlanta. She not only edits books, she also helps writers power up their prose to increase their chances of success. She is the author of Write In Style (Union Square Publishing), a creative-writing guide that won three awards.


Bobbie has spent more than 40 years in the publishing and communications industry and has run Zebra Communications, a book-editing company, since 1992. The editor of many publications and periodicals, she has worked with book publishers and trade magazine publishers as well as working in marketing communications and corporate communications.

Past president, Georgia Writers Association; past vice president, South Carolina Writers Workshop; charter/lifelong member, Florida Writers Association; Southeastern Writers Association; Atlanta Writers Club; Society for the Preservation of English Language and Literature (SPELL); International Guild of Professional Consultants

Write in Style (Union Square Publishing), A Cup of Comfort (Adams Media Corporation), A Cup of Comfort for Friends (Adams Media), A Cup of Comfort for Mothers and Sons (Adams Media), Haunted Engounters (Atriad Press), Remembering Woolworth's (St. Martin's Press), First-Time Home Buyer magazine, HomeBusiness Journal, Apparel Industry Magazine, Edge Magazine, Atlanta Jewish Times, Time Travel Australia, American Writers Review, Points North, That's Entertainment, Atlanta Parent, Agnes Scott Alumnae Magazine, etc.

Journalism: University of South Carolina plus four decades of working in publishing, marketing, communications, advertising, newspaper and magazine production, book publishing, etc.

Awards and Honors
First Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers Annual Contest, 2005; First Place, education, Royal Palm Literary Award, 2004; Best in Division, Georgia Author of the Year Awards, 2005; Finalist, Best Books 2005, USA BookNews Third Place, nonfiction, Georgia Writers, 1999; Nominated for Georgia Author of the Year, 1998; plus many other awards

Past/Present Clients
Capital Books, Sourcebooks, Olin Frederick, The Writer's Machine, Russell Dean & Company, Outskirts Press, and hundreds of writers.

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