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Write Like a Pro — Avoid Adverbs Oct 26

Every day this week I’ll be posting a new article on common mistakes screenwriters make.

NoAdverbsToday’s topic is adverbs — you know, those flowery words that usually end in “ly.” Words like: quickly, haphazardly, vastly, very, annoyingly… etc. They describe verbs or adjectives. These words are great if you’re writing a novel, but they can brand you as an amateur if you use them extensively in your scene description. (In the last script I wrote, I didn’t use a single one)

“But why?” you ask eagerly. “I genuinely love adverbs. They give me that wonderfully fuzzy feeling.”

It’s simple. It’s often the mark of a lazy screenwriter. Our job is to write only what you can see and hear, in a succinct, clever and accurate way. That requires coming up with the perfect verb or adjective to describe the scene. And usually that’s enough.

Instead of:

The Grinch moves stealthily across the floor like a frighteningly evil cat.

You could use:

The Grinch creeps across the floor like a demonic cat.

Or:

The Grinch slinks across the floor like a possessed cat.

You get the idea. Get rid of the adverbs if you can and use better verbs and adjectives. I could have just eliminated “stealthily” and kept “moves,” but “moves” is too simple of a verb. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow.

Sometimes, though, you can simply eliminate the adverb and still achieve the same effect. In a script I read recently, the writer had used something like, “… grossly gnarled hand.” If a hand is gnarled, the “grossly” part is redundant. After all, I’ve never seen a beautifully gnarled hand.

Remember, the no-adverb rule only applies to scene description. Go nuts in dialogue, etc. if it feels authentic.

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2 Responses
  1. sri says:

    Really nice pointer. This is really helpful to all up and coming screenwriters. Perhaps, this site could one day become a meeting site for screenwriters to connect, share ideas and maybe even to partner together. Great work Trevor !

  2. Trevor Mayes says:

    Thanks Sri! That’s what I’m hoping.

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