Writing advice from Stephen King

Adverbs in genre fiction

Have you ever heard the acronym KISS, which stands for Keep It Simple Stupid? This holds true in writing and is one of the reasons you should avoid adverbs in genre fiction (not to mention the master Stephen King told you to in his cult classic, On Writing). When people use too many words, it’s because they don’t know what they’re trying to say – it’s the equivalent of “filling dead air” on the page.

One of my high school English teachers used to say, “I would have written you a shorter paper, but I ran out of time.” Despite this advice, many of my fellow classmates were more concerned about meeting arbitrary word counts than finding quality words, so the more words the better. This is not true in genre fiction (or, arguably, any writing).

Adverbs in genre fiction

Adverbs in genre fiction

I have a big vocabulary. I write for executives as my 9-5 gig, write novels as a side gig, read a lot and studied language at a university level. However, I’ve learned not to use a $5 word when one that costs a nickel serves the same purpose. One of the best ways to isolate readers is to make them feel dumb. Genre fiction is meant to be immersive and accessible, which is a challenge when you need to stop and look up words or read a sentence several times to have it make sense.

Sometimes, I still default to the words I know and typically use in my day-to-day life when I’m writing. Well, that’s what editing is for and those words get pruned away. I am often bored by overly flowery writing and long passages of unnecessary description when I’m reading, so I’ve learned to edit it away from my own stories. Yes, you can write. But can you effectively tell a story? Those are two very different things.

My best advice is to use bold words and say what you mean. Don’t talk around what you’re trying to convey. Words come alive in good writing and I don’t want to get tripped up or rudely yanked out of a story because you’re telling me instead of showing me. It’s obvious when someone used the thesaurus to find another option for “said” or added 12 unnecessary words to a sentence – don’t be that person.

Be clear, concise and direct. Like Mr. King tell us, adverbs are Satan incarnate.

Do you avoid adverbs and $5 words when you’re writing?

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4 thoughts on “Adverbs in genre fiction

  1. Fantastic post. This is something I struggle with on a daily basis, whether it’s in my blogging or my fiction writing. Thank you for the guidance – Much appreciated!

    1. I put a poll on Instagram and some people said they prefer flowery writing… But I think that’s the exception!

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