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Editorial Tip: Go Easy on the Adverbs

What’s an adverb? It’s a word that modifies an action. Think of it as an adjective that describes a verb. An easy way to recognize an adverb is to look for a word that ends in –ly. For example:

The fox jumped tentatively over the log.

The birds flew away silently.

Used once in a while, an adverb can add clarity or drama to a scene. But first-time writers tend to overuse them, peppering their paragraphs (and dialogue) with far too many. What results is a reading experience that feels trite and overwrought—one that tells the reader what’s happening, rather than showing her.

Let’s say you wanted to describe a scene where a child steals a cookie from the kitchen counter. Using an overabundance of adverbs might result in this sentence:

She walked calmly to the cookie jar and slowly lifted the lid, sneakily stealing the last cookie.

Alas, in the book world, such adverb abuse screams “amateur.” Instead, we would suggest opting for a more nuanced approach with your descriptions.

She snuck over to the cookie jar and calmly nabbed the last cookie.

So keep an eye out for the –ly, and go easy. If you want your editor to respond enthusiastically, be sure to use adverbs sparingly!