Is there such a thing? Duh, of course. Many writers will tell you adverbs are weak! There’s always a better way! And nine times out of ten, there is. Adverbs can distract, adverbs can crutch, but most importantly – adverbs can help. How?
I’ve been reading The Stand by Stephen King the last few days. It’s really good. It has a ton of adverbs. Those don’t correlate of course – my training as a creative writer to loathe adverbs has me point one out every time I see one. The Stand is not a prose masterpiece by any means.
Let’s try an example:
I walked across the bridge determinedly.
I don’t like it. Is there anything wrong with it? No. It could just be, well, better. An adverb is a short cut. Think of all the qualities that make up determination – a strong facial expression, deliberate movements, intense eye contact; that’s just covering the physical attributes too, think of emotions: no fear of failure, focus, no weak thoughts, etc. Whatever. Just think about all the things you could be saying, but can’t, because it’s all redundant thanks to your adverb.
I walked across the bridge. Each stride I took, I planted my foot firmly on the ground, my eyes locked onto the dark figure on the other side. He was standing still, looking back at me, his gun pointed towards the ground. I furrowed my brow and frowned as I walked, lowering my head; my hands formed tight fists and my fingernails dug into my palm. A dark cloud gave way to the evening sun, blinding me, but not slowing me down.
There’s so much more you could add to this, too. Inner thoughts. Emotions. Scenery. Metaphors and similes. Smells (hell, why not).
The minimalists out there will obviously reject my idea, and that’s totally fine. Adverbs aren’t against the rules. They are a legitimate part of our language, just like everything else in it. In that case, what’s a “proper’ use of an adverb?
The lion roared furiously.
The cat purred softly.
I consider these to be better uses of adverbs. They don’t distract – that much, anyway. The thing that sets aside “proper” use as opposed to “improper” use is that these words don’t feel out of place. I guess what I’m trying to say is, the common uses of adverbs are the best ones. But even then, you could always do more with a sentence than use an adverb, it’s really up to your discretion. Don’t be afraid to use them in conjunction, too – especially with metaphors and similes.