Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (09 Cutting “ly” Adverbs and Enhancing Scenes)


Good morning, proactive, hands-on self-editors! Are you ready for your next task?

In Article 03, we talked about cutting out individual words and decreasing word count. I told you then we’d talk further about more cutting, but in a way which would increase your word count. That’s what will happen when you cut out “ly” adverbs.

First off, why are “ly” adverbs so horrible? They’re not. Yes, you heard me right—they’re a perfectly legitimate part of English and their appropriate use is not prohibited. Let me state it another way:

  • It’s ok to use “ly” adverbs!

I think she’s really gone off the deep end this time, Chris. Honestly, first she tells us to cut out these things, and then she tells us it’s ok to use them! I think you’d better get another editor to write this series…”

No, no, no. Let me finish.

The reason writers are told to eliminate as many “ly” adverbs as possible—note: I did not say all!—is because they can be overused by writers. Especially newer writers who are still learning the craft of writing and sometimes take the easy way out. Using an “ly” adverb can sometimes be “the easy way out.” For example:

  • Mark walked tiredly to his car.

Nothing wrong with that, is there? Concise, understandable… But easy. Too easy. It’s flat and boring. How does this sound in comparison.

  • Mark crossed the parking lot to his car, his knuckles seeming to drag on the pavement in his exhaustion.

We’ve added thirteen words to the action, taking out the “ly” adverb and enhancing the scene. It’s not too flowery or overly wordy. But it gives the reader a lot more information. In the first sentence, was he walking along a street? In a parking garage? Across a field? In the second, we see he’s in a parking lot. In the first, he’s tired. Ok, we understand. But in the second, we see the depth of his tiredness. That’s the key to enhancing a scene—depth.

In Article 06, “He Said / She Said: Dialogue Tags,” we talked about using dialogue tags such as “shouted,” “muttered,” and “roared,” and how expanding a scene can give the reader a better understanding of what’s going on without relying on the easy way out. This is the same thing.

Expanding scenes will add to your word count, but you can then trim the word count in other, subtle ways—such as removing the individual words noted in Article 03.

If anybody’s up for an exercise, why not choose one of these easy-way-out sentences and offer a rewrite?

  • She ran quickly to keep up with him.

  • Rover sniffed excitedly, hot on the trail.

  • The murderer crept along silently.

  • It snowed heavily at first.

When I write these articles, after I spell check them, I check for “ly” adverbs and excessive “that”s. So I follow my own advice!

We’re Dun for today, so keep on Writin’!


Susan Uttendorfsky

Owner, Adirondack Editing




16 thoughts on “Dun Writin’—Now Whut? A series by Susan Uttendorfsky – Owner of Adirondack Editing – (09 Cutting “ly” Adverbs and Enhancing Scenes)

  1. Reblogged this on Pukah Works and commented:

    Guess what time it is?

    Yup, time for another wonderful article from Susan and the Ape.

    Now, if I could only get my own mind to wrap around this advice. Too many times I take out the “ly” and wind up adding in something like 100 words to make up for it.

    Susan, am I on track for a future article where you tell us how to put on the breaks when the mind goes overboard?

    Liked by 2 people

  2. The cynic in me looks at this article as a way of padding a piece, that benefits editors who charge by the word.

    That being said, I tried the advice in the piece I am working on of Dad’s currently, and it really seems to be working. However, new to this I may be, I think it should be used with caution, as you can create ‘waffle’ if done incorrectly, (probably mine are the best examples of this).


    • You have a valid concern, Damo. Keep in mind that I did say, “Expanding scenes will add to your word count, but you can then trim the word count in other, subtle ways—such as removing the individual words noted in Article 03.” So while I’m advocating increasing your word count in a good way, I’m also advocating trimming out the extras. So it might come out to an even exchange.

      The tips I’m offering in this series are for YOU to do yourself, not in view of hiring any editor, including me. These are self-editing tips, not ways to increase your editing price. 😉


      • I appreciate the tips, honestly I do. Especially as writing like this is so very new to me.

        I hope you did not take offense at my cynical side. I do tend to speak my mind, but tone does not translate well in text.


        • No, I didn’t take offense, and you did raise a valid point! I don’t want people to think I’m here just to find customers. That’s not my goal—or Chris’—in writing and offering these articles. 🙂 We’re both in agreement that we want to aid writers in learning how to write better themselves.


          • That’s correct – apart from anything else Susan and I love to read good, well constructed and smooth flowing stories, so Susan edits to help authors achieve the best possible result and I promote authors and writers to encourage them to write more 🙂


  3. I like thrilling things.

    The man eased open the back door, wincing as it squeaked in the middle. He shut it and carried on. He had a task. He slunk up the stairs, feeling first with his toes against the wooden planks. Moving like a wraith, he peeked in door after door, looking. He found the right room. He tip-toed in. He raised his arm, the blade of the knife in his hands. He brought it down. And then he jumped out the window.

    I like books like this. Very interesting stuff. I like the spookiness, plus the mystery in it. 🙂


  4. Rover’s nose twitched! That scent! That exciting scent had wafted oe’r the waves once again, enticing him to a land filled with Milk Bone Doggie Biscuits and lovely little poodles in heat! He roused from his doggie dreams and sped along the shore, hot on the trail of that tickler of his ooglingly outrageous olfactory orifices!

    {Well, ok, I got carried away a bit at the end maybe. But usually that’s perfectly OK, at least occasionally, if it’s done quickly and softly.}





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