Third Draft: Hunting Those Adverbs

Oh yes, my favourite pastime: hunting down and slaughtering adverbs. My first and second draft are full of them and that won’t do. My mission, should I choose to accept it, is to find those pesky critters and blast them out of this universe.


“The man ran quickly down the street.”

What is wrong with that? Nothing, the adverb “quickly” provides a shorthand that tells us how the man ran. In first draft mode it is fine because it gets me through the story. Come the third draft and it needs attention so I cut it.

“The man ran down the street.”

Hmmm. That doesn’t sound right. “Ran” now seems weak, but by cutting the adverb it has encouraged me to think about the sentence.

“The man sprinted down the street.”

Better: the weak verb “ran” has been replaced by a stronger one. Now I am rocking, but I want  to convey more.

“The man sprinted down the street, narrowly avoiding a young woman with a buggy.”

Oops, I have sneaked another adverb in there, that won’t do.

“The man sprinted down the street, stumbling as he tried to avoid a young woman with a buggy.”

See what is happening? Each time we cut an adverb we are forced to fill the hole with description. Compare the first sentence with the final one:

“The man ran quickly down the street.”

“The man sprinted down the street, stumbling as he tried to avoid a young woman with a buggy.”

Which is better? Now go to one of your favourite authors and count the number of adverbs in the non-dialogue text on the pages. There probably (! – could I cut that, yes!) won’t be more than one or two, if any.

Note I said non-dialogue – I don’t mind a few adverbs in dialogue because that is the way we speak, but if you do decide to cut them here too then that’s fine.

BTW: don’t get intimidated by grammar. I am useless at it but realise that it is worth making the effort. An analogy would be with musicians and their attitude to music. Some great musicians haven’t been able to read or understand music, but for those without natural talent the more knowledge they have the better.

Right now, load up your gun (Ok, place your fingers ready over Ctrl C), and go hunting!

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