Posted by: steveonfilm | September 19, 2009

Served Cold Challenge: Day Twenty Seven

I got through about 50 pages tonight. Red lines all over the place. It was fun.

On the flip side…

I’ve been at war with adverbs. You know, adverbs. Those words that all end in “ly.” For example, “totally,” “likely,” “gingerly,” “fatally.” All of those are adverbs. If you see an “ly” at the end of a word, 9 times out of 10 it’s an adverb. There are other, sneakier, adverbs out there like “well” and “very,” but I cut them some slack since they’re not just coasting on the coattails of other, more original verbs and adjectives.

Why the war on adverbs? I’ll tell you why. They can ruin your writing. They’re an easy way out of a tricky description. They’re the lazy man’s answer to a thesaurus. Adverbs are fine when used in moderation. But more often than not they appear all over the place and muddy up otherwise coherent thought.

For the most part I’m cool with adverbs in dialog, but I have serious a habit of slipping them into one line descriptions. Like in places where instead of using a parenthetical I just insert a line of action. It helps to break up dialog and make the page more vertical. But it also opens the window to cheat and get lazy. We all know the line is there to break things up. It’s not important. It might be someone “frantically” shifting through papers. Or “gingerly” taking a drag of a cigarette. Perhaps they laugh “manically”. All that kind of stuff.

When I’m writing I don’t think about adverbs. I just type what comes out. But when I’m editing–when I’m wielding that red pen of vengeance–I strike them down with the utmost malice.

One day I’ll be able to write an entire screenplay without using a single adverb. But that day is far off in the future. And I’m most certain that it won’t be Served Cold. I’m utilizing more of a containment strategy on this one.

Until next time, keep writing!



  1. You might find the AutoCrit Editing Wizard helpful in your war against adverbs 🙂

    It alerts you when you have used too many. Finds lots of other problems, too.

    • I’ll check that out. Is it a program or a web service?

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