I know: big talk, from someone who’s never attended a single writing course, or even been published. Thank God I have no shame, so I shall now rant against those golden writing rules most aspiring authors have read about at some point in their endeavor.
A rule you’ll frequently read on the Internet is that adverbs are the source of all evil, and that your writing should be entirely free of them. As a practical example, The Hemingway App states that my 96k words manuscript should contain less than seventeen adverbs in order to qualify as bold and clear writing. I am therefore sorry to inform you that my work is neither clear, nor bold.
The justification for this is that Stephen King/[Insert any author name here] doesn’t use adverbs. That’s . . . not very convincing. For the record, Stephen King did publish a writing tips book recommending writers to forgo adverbs, as he himself hardly ever uses any. In any case, this explanation makes no sense, so let’s try to come up with a better one.
Beyond the Stephen King thing, here are the two most common explanations for this particular rule:
- Writers don’t need adverbs, all they need is to find the right verb. For example: “She screamed loudly” > “She howled”. “He rose begrudgingly” > “He … erm. Well, there seems to be a bug in the matrix, here.”
- Adverbs make for bad writing. Bad. Bad, bad bad. Booooh. Please stop asking why, no one will tell you.
My own two cents:
Many a blogger will advise you to use adverbs sparingly if you can’t go without them at all. I’d say this is almost correct, except for one thing: take your voice in account. Don’t turn your manuscript into a phone book for the sake of nuking every single adverb in your writing.
Very is a bad word you should never use. Yes, this rule makes no sense either. This is a
very common recommendation as well. Here again, I’d say that you need to use this word sparingly, but not try to avoid it at all costs. An expression like “In the very beginning” holds nothing wrong in itself, and I can safely confirm that you keyboard will not explode if you type this. (Because I just did. And I’m still here. Yeah . . . Still here.Yup. Even Now.)
That being said, like for any other word, it doesn’t hurt to count how many times you’ve used, it if in doubt. I’m thinking of a particular novel I won’t name, that contains 375 occurrences of the word “very”. That, I’d say, might be a stylistic issue (hint: it’s about tying people in playrooms . . ..)
My own two cents:
In my experience, very, as an adverb, poses the same issue than all the others: it shouldn’t be used it there’s an actual verb/adjective you can rely on instead, but it can be very effective to give your voice a more natural feel, to emphasize an event in a humorous way.
- “It was very big” → Could be “It was huge/impressive/etc.”
- “I was very very pissed.” → In this case, it’s obviously a character speaking, and very can be used—yes, twice, baby!—to add some genuine emotion to a dialogue (there’s nothing worse that stilted dialogue as a result of sticking too closely to grammatical/stylistic rules, IMHO).