Madeline (M.M.) Gornell is the author of seven award-winning mystery novels. Her current literary focus is Route 66 as it traverses California’s Mojave Desert. Madeline is a lifetime lover of mysteries, and besides reading and writing, is also a sometime potter. She lives with her husband and assorted canines in the High Desert.

Way back when, a favored relative we occasionally visited would say, “That’s just loverly,” when she liked something—especially when giving a compliment. She wasn’t using loverly as a stand-in for being lover-like, but as a confounding of the word lovely. At least that’s what my brain took as her meaning—that the object she was referring to was very nice. Pleasing. Her remembered words, and pictures of her in my mind’s eye are what brought me to this post, and my topic—Adjectives and adverbs in writing.[i]

ThinkingHeadtoBookMany far more successful writers than I have shared their opinions, preferences–and given advice regarding the use of adjectives and adverbs in fiction writing. And the current trend, I think, is the fewer the better. Edit them out. My (slightly contrary) thoughts here are about my personal leanings, and are inspired by what I like to read—not a rule from a writer’s perspective. And underlying my thoughts, are topics which I hopefully have mentioned before—(1) The benefits from exposure to as many ideas and information as possible (like I’ve heard here at Writers in Residence) (2) Breaking rules or current writing customs in favor of your writing instincts and “voice.”

The short, sweet, and to the point of this post is—I love adjectives and adverbs. To me, they can enhance, convey feeling, bring connotation, or even add warmth or coldness to an idea you’re trying to express. They are what brings the cadence to your “voice,” and the musicality to your writing. To me, the right adjective or adverb can help a reader sense the scene, heighten sensory perceptions already described, or even quickly picture a whole character. A few examples…

  • His tone was conspiratorial, and slightly excited.
  • But Meldon’s loud voice, surprisingly high and squeaky, brought him back to current day.
  • With him whistling appreciatively to himself in his cruiser-cocoon, in acknowledgement of their hard work and accomplishment…
  • Ben willfully continued to ignore both yesterday morning’s congratulatory thoughts about the Caltrans crew…
  • Still, and quite annoyingly—even so protected from outside forces, when Ben looked down at his lap, he needed to brush away fine granules of yellowish-sand from along the crease of his meticulously pressed right pants leg

For me, Judging when an adjective or adverb will bring depth to a character, the scenery, or to just make a more musical sentence—versus self-indulgent prose-writing, is well worth thinking about. I usually make my judgment call for “keeping,” but if the word is not doing what I want, finding a better adjective/adverb. And if still not working, scratch the whole thing, and try writing a different way.

Another Writing Balancing Act

If there’s actual advice I’d like to offer—it is before cutting out all those evil-adjective and word-adding adverbs (especially the “ly” ones,) think about a couple other concepts dear to my writing heart—voice, and the musicality of your writing. Said another way—true enough, one should watch out for shooting yourself in the foot with tortured over-written prose—but at the same time making sure you are writing prose that makes your heart sing!

Would love to hear your thoughts on the topic…

Happy and loverly writing trails!


[i] Merriam Webster online: Adjective…a word belonging to one of the major form classes in any of numerous languages and typically serving as a modifier of a noun to denote a quality of the thing named, to indicate its quantity or extent, or to specify a thing as distinct from something else…  Adverbs are words that usually modify—that is, they limit or restrict the meaning of.  They may also modify adjectives, other adverbs, phrases, or even entire sentences. An adverb answers the question when?, where?, how?, how much?, how long?, or how often?

19 thoughts on “Loverly!”

  1. Madeline, I’m not in the camp that deems every adjective and adverb a writing faux pas. Adverbs especially get a bad rap, but a well-placed one can be the perfect word. But they do need to be used thoughtfully, as you suggest.

    This is just one of the examples I use in my dialogue presentation to improve upon an expression of anger: “‘I hate you!’ he shouted angrily” works better as “‘I hate you!’ He threw Maybelle’s cherished plate at the wall.” The expression on its own conveys the emotion, and even the throwing of the plate may not be needed—but it does adds color.

    Thanks for another great post!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Maggie, for stopping by and commenting. Yes, your example is excellent, and for me, the word “cherished” brings depth and several levels of emotion (his and hers) to the event. Downside for me, Maggie, is I sometimes spend too much time finding just that perfect word.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. My sentiments exactly, Mad. Adjectives and adverbs are the seasoning in the stew. Sometimes all you need is a little salt or a dash of pepper, but then again, a handful of parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme might be just the thing. But we need to taste the stew first and see just what is needed. Or if we have over-seasoned, throw it out and start over again with just the right seasoning. Great post.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Oh Gayle, what a perfect analogy! And one–I can tell right now–that’s going to stick in my brain and I’ll be calling upon when looking for just the right adjective or adverb. Love it.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Mar! And I love your turn of phrase, “It too will pass.” And you’re so right, there are so many loverly adjectives and adverbs for us to use and make our writing sing the way we want it to…I’m one of the people who love the variety the English language offers…though lately, my ability to spell all of those loverly words seems to be fading. (smile)

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I enjoy using adjectives and adverbs, although I admit to sometimes overusing them, especially adverbs. But without them, or with them severely limited, sentences will be stripped down and not nearly as interesting. Thanks for a fun post!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I have to admit, Linda, I also sometimes go overboard. Thank goodness for editors! But I so agree, adjectives and adverbs bring “interest” to a sentence, or thought, or character.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. So agree on redundancy point, Jackie. I have a tendency to restate something (not just with the modifiers) that is already obvious, or I just previously pointed out. Again, thank goodness for editors. But I must say, the longer I write (and try to pay attention) I’m better at spotting my “overwriting” as I call it. And I love your love for language…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Your statement, “Judging when an adjective or adverb will bring depth to a character, the scenery, or to just make a more musical sentence—versus self-indulgent prose-writing, is well worth thinking about”, summed it up for me. I agree that when deliberately chosen and used in a judicious way, adjectives and adverbs can create that ‘voice’ or rhythm we seek more than spare prose. Like all rules in writing, knowing when and how to break them is an art that we writers must master. Thanks for the great post.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We’re very much in agreement, Miko, that knowing when and how to break the “current rules” is an art we need to master. Writing is so wonderful, I think, because there’s always a challenging hurdle to jump, or higher mountain peak to reach…the adventure is endless. (hope you’re enjoying your current adventure!)

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love “musical” writing and I use those old adverbs too, but not so they stand out, I hope. Thanks for standing up for them. They will pay you back in kind. As an editor, I tend to cut, cut, cut. But like you, Gayle, and the others said, there is a definite place and time for these sometimes outcast descriptive words.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank goodness for editors like you, Jackie, for when some of us get out of control! The problem for me is, there’s just so much “beauty” in various words–what they represent, might represent, and sound like inside my head. I neither can know them all, or use them… And turning off readers is counterproductive to using them. A balancing act for sure.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Thanks for visiting, Marja! Now that I’ve written this post, I can’t get the word “loverly” out of my mind…funny how that stuck-in-your-head stuff works. For some it’s music, for me it’s words and faces. And on the “feels right to us,” front you mention, I think a reader can tell when it’s not right. Hasn’t happened often, but I do remember several books where I just couldn’t connect, and I’m pretty sure it was because the writer was trying to write in a way that didn’t fit them.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Charming post, Mad! The word ‘loverly’ is very English – -especially in Shaw’s “Pygmalion” – and the song from “My Fair Lady” – “Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”…. so I am very familiar with its every-day use. Like Jackie, I love the ‘musicality’ description that adverbs can bring. As Gayle says, it really is the added seasoning to the literary stew we are creating. As long as we don’t overdo it, of course. But I agree – adverbs really can be loverly….

    Liked by 1 person

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