MSUM Part 2 – Ably Addressing Adverbs

Welcome to Part 2 of “My Stories Under the Microscope” or “MSUM”, where I run 13 of my short stories through Hemingway and take a closer look at the results.

This time it’s all about the adverbs.

If you need a refresher on your parts of speech (as I always do), adverbs are words or phrases which modify or qualify the verb in a sentence. They provide more information about how, when, where, or how often that action occurs – think gently, yesterday, outside, sometimes.

Adverbs are quite nifty little words and they can be very important. But too many of them can weigh your writing down, making for slow, clunky sentences. There’s also the danger of heading into purple prose territory, so it’s a good idea to try and only use them when they’re really needed.

Hemingway highlights all of the adverbs, and tells you how many adverbs are appropriate for the length of the piece. Here’s an example from one of my stories:


Look at all of those lovely, blue adverbs. In this example, every one of them could be cut, and I would end up with a stronger story. Yes, they add some flavour and I quite like them where they are, but none of them are really vital.

Now let’s have a look at my adverb count across the stories. I took the Hemingway adverbs target for each story and divided it into that story’s word count. It isn’t an exact formula, but it seems to average out at about 1% – that is, 1 in every 100 words is “allowed” to be an adverb.


The chart shows that, out of 13 stories, I went over the acceptable adverb count 3 times, matched it exactly once, and stayed under 9 times. I’d say that’s not too bad. The 3 stories where I went over were particularly emotional stories for me to write, so I think it’s understandable that I would use more qualifiers and modifiers in those pieces.

The chart also shows an overall decline in adverbs in my work. Theoretically, that means my pieces are cleaner and, hopefully, punchier. That’s certainly something I’m working towards. I look forward to revisiting this exercise in a year’s time – we’ll see if I’ve improved at all.

Do you use a lot of adverbs, too? Do you have any tricks for cutting down? I want to hear all about it!

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