There’s a time when ‘ly’ words aren’t so lovely.

I confess I struggle at times with adverbs when I write.  For years ‘ly’ words have been my friends.  I could count on them to help propel the story forward when my brain locked up and I couldn’t produce the right sentence structure.  Then one day I realized I was using adverbs as a crutch when instead of showing the story I chose to tell it instead.  Or to put it another way, I wasn’t using adverbs carefully and introspectively and in a manner which reflected attention to my reader’s sensibility.

I’m sure you see what I did there right?  Pretty obvious, but let’s take a serious look at some of the more common things we see in a lot of stories out there.

Let’s suppose in one scene, we have a protagonist inside a room and an antagonist outside the room.  The door to the room is closed.  Now keep in mind that the protagonist and antagonist could be lovers who just had a spat, or one could be a deranged killer attempting to get to the only (Yes I know I used an adverb – I didn’t say never use one.  To my credit only can be an adverb, an adjective and a conjunction) person left alive who witnessed the foul deed.

It all depends on where you want to go and how you wish to roll.  Give yourself a minute.  See the image in your head?

Great, now let’s get the character on the outside of the room in.  I’ve chosen to use the protagonist’s POV, but you may want to try your examples using the antagonist perspective.  Whatever you’re comfortable with, just try to keep the ‘head hopping’ to a minimum.  Here’s a thought.  Maybe I’ll weigh in on something about POV in a later blog.

But I digress.  Let’s get to the examples.

Paragraph #1, (51 words) – Protagonist hears footsteps echoing in the hallway and instinctively looks at the door knob of the closed door.  Protagonist watches it slowly turn, and then sees the door suddenly swing open.  Antagonist pushes through the open doorway and stares at the protagonist intently, a smile of intent haphazardly crossing his/her/its face.

Or you could write it this way.

Paragraph #2, (69 words) – Protagonist hears footsteps echoing in the hallway and stiffens as shadows appear at the foot of the door.  Staring at the doorknob, the protagonist’s trembles; a moan escaping his/her/its lips as the knob turns, and the door swings open.  Antagonist pushes through the open doorway and stops, his/her/its gruesome image silhouetted by the light in the hallway.  He/She/It leers at the protagonist, a crooked smile crossing his/her/its face.

Or you may want to get lean with your writing as in the following example.

Paragraph #3, (46 words) – Protagonist hears footsteps echoing in the hallway and looks at the door knob of the closed door.  Protagonist watches it turn, and then sees the door swing open.  Antagonist pushes through the open doorway and stares at the protagonist, a smile of intent crossing his/her/its face.

Each of the examples above may have a different tone or voice and may or may not fit your style so I recommend you knock this exercise about for yourself, see what you come up with and then post your own examples, observations or suggestions on how you like to manage ‘ly’ words, A.K.A adverbs.

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