As writers, we are constantly (adverb) told about the misstep of using too many adverbs in our writing. I recently received the book Nabakov’s Favorite Word is Mauve, by Ben Blatt which has the first attempt to quanitfy adverb usage by authors recognized as the masters of the craft that I have seen.
So, being a numbers person, I was drawn to this article and wanted to see how my own writing stacked up to the masters in this area.
Did Stephen King live up to his quote? The book found that, out of the voluminous novels (51) that King has written, his rate of adverb usage (strictly the ones ending in ‘ly’)is about 101 per 10,000 words or right around 1%. Ernest Hemingway, who also extolled the evils of adverbs, lived up to his claim with only 80 adverbs per 10,000 words over his 10 novels. That’s only .8%.
Shown below is a chart that I found in Blatt’s book that compares a number of popular novelists and their adverb usage number per 10,000 words.
Adverbs may not be an indicator of writing ability or quality, but you can see by this list that Ernest Hemingway practiced what he preached and other authors, like E.L. James almost doubled the use of adverbs per 10,000 words.
What does this mean for you and I? Well, I’m glad you asked. I found a tool online that will go through a sample of your writing and highlight the adverbs. This chart above only counted the ‘ly’ types of adverbs which is certainly not all of them. I put my nearly 3,000 words story, Channel 19, through this tool and here are the results:
This is a partial screen shot of the result. For a story of 2,951 words, I had 26 ‘ly’ adverbs. That’s a .88% rate. Not too shabby. I’m between Ernest Hemingway and Stephen King’s rate of adverb usage. Extrapolated to 10,000 words, that comes out to about 88 adverbs, between Amy Tan and John Steinbeck.
If only my sales were up in that area.
If you want to check out the book, You can find it HERE.
Also, if you want to run your own work through a quick tool, here are a couple you can try:
Tell us your results, if you dare.