Casting Away the Adverb Crutch #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

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A recent letter from my editor came back this week where the good news said I’d finally developed an “intuitive clip” to my scenes that work! I’m thrilled! Then I read on to see the points I still need to address. One of them being my crutch–adverbs in dialogue.

What does this mean? I scratched my head. Then I saw the lovely article included in my editor’s notes from The Write Practice by Jeff Elkins.

A brilliant to the point article with three solid tips and plenty of clear examples, I learned:

A character can say the same statement in so many ways. It’s not always the words that matter though, but the body language that goes along to make a statement stronger, disconnected, or distressing, without actually using she said stronger, he said tersely, or longingly, ect.

For example:

Matt stands in front of his open locker, staring at his watch. Another minute is gone. Two more minutes until the warning bell goes off. There’s no more time to finish the assignment before first hour. This sucks. 

He takes out his phone. The text he’d sent ten minutes earlier goes unanswered. What the heck, Mitch? Where are you? He texts again.

The warning bell fires off so loud Matt’s head rattles. Beyond frustrated, he takes out his Mountain Dew and twists off the cap. 

Footsteps register. Fast ones. Matt twists the cap on so tight his hand burns; It’s Mitch. 

Matt could say several things to Mitch: 

  1. “About time. What’s up?”
  2. “Hey. Where have you been?”
  3. “You look like crap. Need a swig of this?”

Mitch may say several things back.

  1. “I’m sorry. You’d never believe the morning at my place.”
  2. “Ugh, I don’t want to talk about it.”
  3. “Thanks. I could use a boost.”

Now here’s where you add the body language.

Matt slams his locker shut. “About time,” he says. What’s up?” 

“I’m so sorry,” Mitch says and folds his hands in prayer. “You’d never believe the morning at my place.” 


“Hey,” Matt says with a fist up in his usual morning greet. “Where have you been?”

“Ugh,” Mitch groans and bumps fists. “I don’t want to talk about it.”


“You look like crap,” Matt says, handing the Mountain Dew to Mitch. “Need a swig of this?”

“Thanks,” Mitch says and points to his straight up bed hair. “I could use a boost.”

If you want to find some really great adverb examples, visit Elkins post.

Last advice I learned about dialogue and body language is to always read your dialogue outloud. 

Also, don’t forget about the Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglist. There are tons of great body language examples for mood to use with dialogue.

Happy Hop Day 🙂

About Erika Beebe

Author, dreamer, and a momma to a couple of wonderful kids, I try to live life everyday in hope and inspire others along my way.

Posted on January 15, 2020, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. So many responses and so many things they could do while speaking!

  2. Great post. Love the use of body language.

  3. Oh, this was great to share — thanks. I honestly never even thought of it. YIKES! Thanks for the lesson.

  4. Great examples. I’d also consider adding some emotional reactions here and there.

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  5. Those are great examples of the different directions a writer could take with even the simplest of dialog.

  6. I really like the examples. Reading them, I really could feel the change in tone with the quick shift in body language. Thanks for posting and explaining!

  7. Natalie Aguirre

    These are great tips. And very timely for me because I’m trying to show more how my main character really feels. Body movements really do that.

  8. Such great advice. I always worry that all of my characters sound like me instead of themselves.

  9. I got wrapped up in the story! well said, Erika

  10. Victoria Marie Lees

    Adverbs, those lovely adverbs. They get me every time. I try to pluck them out as I revise, otherwise, I can never get anything on the page to revise. All best to you, Erika.

  11. I love seeing stuff you’ve written. You’ve bested me on being able to write realistic male-to-male interactions I think. 🙂

  12. Damyanti Biswas

    Loved the post. Great examples.

  13. Ronel Janse van Vuuren

    Great tips! Something to remember while writing and editing 🙂

  14. Great reminder! Definitely need to make use of that body language, but so easy to forget too. And congrats on that warm feedback from your editor.

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