What's the big deal about adverbs, anyway? From the way many people talk about them, adverbs are the cockroaches of the printed page. Always scurrying about uninvited. Hard to exterminate. Devious.
What is an adverb, anyway? It is a modifier. It modifies adjectives, verbs, and other adverbs. Not really such a big deal, right? Not so terribly insidious? If you think so, go back and count all the adverbs I've used in this post thus far. You may be surprised to find out how many of those little devils actually lurk in a couple of fairly benign paragraphs.
One major thing about adverbs - they do not all end in ly. This is an easy way to prune away a few of them, sure. After you've done that, though, what to look for next?
A good place to start is with a dialogue tag. One simple rule is that the dialogue tag should be nothing more than I, he, she, it, or (rarely) they said. Other style books also allow asked as a tag. Anything more than that and you are on dangerous ground. Let me show you.
"I wouldn't do that," she said.
"I wouldn't do that," she said, knowingly.
Does the adverb knowingly help at all? Does it add anything to the tone of that dialogue? No. No it does not. First of all, what does a person look like when they say something knowingly? Is it something about their eyes or hair that gives away the fact that they know something that others don't? Or is it something in the tone of voice? Something, perhaps, that can't be communicated by the adverb knowingly? Or is it something that is, in fact, expressed by the fact that she said she wouldn't do it? Ahh. Yes. That's it. The statement itself tells us she knows something. The adverb is extraneous. And being extraneous is really the problem that all adverbs have.
Me? I like adverbs. If you've been counting (and I hope you have) you'll notice that I've littered this blog post with tons of adverb goodness. Then again, this is a blog post. It is meant to be conversational, a little bit chatty, and fun. Adverbs are great for this. I wouldn't cull adverbs out of all speech, all blog posts, all casual stories. When it comes to writing for publication, however, or for educational purposes, I can be ruthless. I cut those poor little adverbs to the quick. As should you.
In conclusion, what I really want to say is that when dealing with adverbs, know your audience. Don't take advice that tells you to use all adverbs all of the time or use no adverbs at any time - take care with your words and choose a tone that is appropriate for that particular piece. Really.