Metaphoricals and Adverbs

Adverbs can be powerful. She is an unknown high school sophomore.

[The athlete/senior] stops next to our table and says to me, "Nice pics." He puts his fist out in front of my face.

I'm staring stupidly at his huge hand until I realize he's trying to fist bump with me. Me? In the cafeteria, in front of everyone? I cautiously put out my fist, we bump, and he walks away.

That second paragraph deflates like a balloon with two pinholes if the adverbs are taken out.

They also help describe. A lot. All the good adverbs do.

But adverbs can add power and excitement, descriptive or not.

The gym was incredibly black.

That's a power adverb. It takes a boring sentence and makes it a lot more interesting. Incredibly!

But it doesn't really describe. Black is black. If there was a worry that that the reader wouldn't visualize something black enough, "completely black" or "totally black" would have worked. (Ironically incredibly black is somewhat oxymoronish – if something is blacker than anything I could imagine, then I won't imagine it.)

So, adverbs get used for power even when they aren't descriptive. It's even a style of writing.

A perfect nightmare of a novel -- as merciless a thriller as I've ever read. Astonishingly dark and sensationally accomplished. (back of Our Kind of Cruelty, Finn)

Whether that style of writing is "good" or not depends, I guess, on perspective. If the goal is exciting or persuading people, it's apparently good. If the goal is communicating information, then it's bad – because it doesn't.

And, of course, my argument was that metaphors and similes are the same way. They can be used powerfully and descriptively. They can also be used for power and vividness even when they are not descriptive.

The gym was blacker than the inside of a cave. (I Know What you Bid Last Summer, Harris, page 10 paperback)

That's a whole style of writing. It's good for exciting people; it's not good for communicating information.

Adverbs and metaphors/similes have somehow acquired different reputations – the power of metaphors and similes is praised, while the focus for adverbs is on their problems. Really, the critical factor is descriptiveness versus not. And I have the same advice for both:

When adding an adverb for power, be as descriptive as possible.

Make metaphoricals as descriptive as possible.