Adverbial Compression

One of my podcasts is Writing Excuses, which I like and find really thought-provoking, but, in general, haven’t found to be writing changing for me. It’s nice to think about the craft of writing for a few minutes with people who have thought a lot about the craft of writing, though, so I look forward to it.

Until this week’s episode, which has blown my mind. They’ve been talking about revision for a couple of weeks–so you can see why I’ve been paying close attention.

And this week, they were talking about adverbs. Adverbs have a bad reputation among writers and yet, when you’re writing, my god, if she says, “I love you” softly, is it really so bad that she says it softly?

But this week, one of the Writing Excuses people introduced this idea of “adverbial compression.” He looks for adverbs in his work and finds that they are often places where he’d be better off writing more.

So, take my example above.

I might write “‘I love you,’ she said, softly.”

But dude is arguing that your writing is stronger if you cut the softly and add some shit that lets the reader know she’s saying it softly. You can see how that works thusly:

“She pressed her face into the pillow, so that he could not hear what she was saying, if he was even awake, and she said, ‘I love you.'”


“She grabbed him by the chest hair, pulled his ear close to her lips, and said, ‘I love you.'”

My mind is blown. Not just because it’s a great way to add more descriptive interactions between your characters, but because, wow, yes, here’s a good explanation for why you might not want to use adverbs and what you might do in those spots instead.