The Adverb Is Not Your Friend


The adverb is not your friend. I believe the road to hell is paved with adverbs, and I will shout it from the rooftops. – Stephen King

What a great quote. It is taken Stephen King’s wonderful book –‘On Writing – A Memoir of The Craft’. If you haven’t read it then I recommend that you do.

Unfortunately, if you look at the way we teach writing in our schools, you will see that the adverb is held in high esteem. Quite often a child’s writing ability is measure by the quantity and quality of the adverbs that they can cram into a story.

Don’t Dress Up Your Vocabulary

The most pleasurable thing about reading this book is that so many of the quotes hit home, or they did to me. I don’t know about you but I sometimes get concerned that my writing is not ‘flowery’ enough. I’ll often finish a piece and then grab the thesaurus to see how I might improve it. Stephen King would argue that I might be doing more harm than good.

One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you’re maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed. Make yourself a solemn promise right now that you’ll never use ‘emolument’ when you mean ‘tip’. – Stephen King

What a great thought to take away, the idea that, as writers, we may be a little bit ashamed when we use short words. In the future, whenever I feel I need to change a short word for a longer one, I hope the image of my neighbour’s cat dressed in top hat and tails, stops me.

Use The First Word You Think Of

When you think about it it makes sense – when we talk to one another our purpose is to get some sort of message across, rarely are you trying to score points with the other person, trying to see who can come up with the most complicated words.

Remember that the basic rule of vocabulary is use the first word that comes to your mind, if it is appropriate and colorful. If you hesitate and cogitate, you will come up with another word – of course you will, there’s always another word – but it probably wont be as good as your first one, or as close to what you really mean. – Stephen King

A Tie & Lace-Up Shoes

One of the reasons that I keep going back to this book is because it makes me feel much more comfortable with my own writing. Whenever I write a story, however long or short (more recently they have mainly been short!) I feel that I am trying to tell a story. I try to use words that I would if I was actually telling the story. It would be quite easy to draft out a story then grab a thesaurus and change as many words as possible. The problem is that it would then cease to be my words. It would be a story written by a thesaurus!

I will leave you with this idea:

Language does not always have to wear a tie and lace-up shoes. The object of fiction isn’t grammatical correctness but to make the reader welcome and then tell a story … to make him/her forget, whenever possible, that he/she is reading a story at all. – Stephen King

I think I’ll put back on the shelf the thesaurus that I have just dusted off. Instead I will stick with the words that I think best tell the story I have written down.

Mike Jackson




  1. schillingklaus

    I utilise adverbs shamelessly and religiously; and none of the FUD spread by a god, dictator, or King of contemporary fiction will ever deter me thereform.


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