Vivid images and emotions are essentials of good fiction. While there are a number of ways to approach the descriptions necessary to achieve such an effect, there is one one that should be avoided whenever possible: the “ly” adverb.
“Happily,” “gladly,” “angrily …” you get the picture.
On a superficial level, these adverbs look harmless enough. While that may be true on occasion, they have a number of pitfalls associated with them.
One major problem occurs when they create a redundancy in a line (which is more often than not). Here’s a quick and dirty example using one of the words mentioned above to illustrate the point:
“James angrily tore up the bill, glaring at the snooty waiter before storming out the door.”
In the above line, James both tears up a bill and glares at someone before leaving in a huff. Saying he’s “angrily” performing these actions becomes pointless because the emotion involved is so obvious.
Worse, the “ly” adverb can also lend itself to lazy writing. The line I provided is pretty solid outside of “angrily.” A simple omission of the word would fix the problem. But what would have happened if I’d relied on adverbs to carry the emotion of the line? It might look something like:
“James angrily looked over the bill; he stared at the server accusingly before walking out of the restaurant.”
Blech. Pretty bad, isn’t it? Now, you know why.
Good writing is reliant on showing rather than telling the reader what is happening in a scene. Such immersion is well beyond the abilities of one-word shortcuts. So, put the work in and make sure the action on the page carries the emotional weight. Doing so marks the difference between handing a reader a rare gem and tossing him a rumpled newspaper clipping about the same stone.