Stomping Adverbs

I think the quest to stamp out the use of adverbs in writing has gone too far.

Recently I was reading yet another published story where the author attributed to a "disembodied body part" what I regard as an inappropriate descriptor. The phrase was something like "he moved a cautious hand toward the gun."

As I read something a sentence like this, I can't help but picture the character reaching into his "hand box" . . . 

"Hmmmm, not this one, it's hesitant . . . not this one, it's more of an angry fist . . . nope, not this one, it's too nervous. . . ah, here 'tis, this one looks like it's a cautious one."

Crazy, but you get the idea.

There's no way the hand can be cautious (what does a cautious hand look like when it's just sitting there on the table or in our "hand box"?). The hand has no motives, no thought, no reasoning power . . . nothing that motivates this form of writing except the perceived need to avoid using an adverb to describe how a person moves his or her hand.

The use of the adverb appropriately describing the motion would--in my estimation--have been better than what was used.

Even better, though, would have been a more immediate, more graphic description of what such a cautious movement looks like. The reader, if he or she is to stay immersed in the story, is better off "seeing" the action and concluding--on his or her own--that the movement was a cautious one.

Any other way, using the more grammatically appropriate adverb or the inappropriate descriptor of the hand, smacks of the author leading the reader . . . and risks calling the reader's attention to the fact that it's a story being read rather than a situation being "lived".

Every time I see adjectives describing "disembodied body parts," I have trouble shaking the strong gut feeling that this is lazy writing . . . at best. It jars me out of my immersion in a story every time because of the absurd imagery that results. And that's bad.

I suppose this is my version of a literary leaky faucet.

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Sunday, January 20, 2008