I recently revised my first novel for its reissue in an omnibus edition. I was shocked at the number of adverbs I took out! It seems that in fifteen years of writing and publishing I've developed a healthy allergy to adverbs, and I was glad to have a chance to clear them out of The Singers of Nevya. I've come to think of excessive adverbs as the hallmark of the amateur--and I was one, of course, when I wrote my first book.
We lard our conversations with adverbs: really, very, pretty, actually, totally, hopefully, and the ever-popular and inaccurate literally. On the printed page, these words suck the energy out of good verbs and render them limp and lifeless. Like the other elements of the secret handshake, there are exceptions. But in a preponderance of cases, adverbs can be omitted without changing the meaning of the sentence. More often than not, the sentence is stronger without the extraneous word.
To quote the redoubtable William Zinsser: "Don't tell us that the radio blared loudly; 'blare' connotes loudness. Don't write that someone clenched his teeth tightly; there's no other way to clench teeth. Again and again in careless writing, strong verbs are weakened by redundant adverbs." My favorite example of Mr. Zinsser's is "totally flabbergasted". He writes, "The beauty of 'flabbergasted' is that it implies an astonishment that is total." (On Writing Well, published by Harper Collins)
It's worth noting, in addition, that some of these words are also "weasel" words, like rather. Quite, a little, kind of diminish a writer's point. Decide, already! Is she smiling, or not? Please don't give us "sort of smiling". Is he jealous? Let him be jealous! This is drama, after all. Don't make your character "kind of jealous" or "a little jealous" or even "quite jealous."
Of course, all writers should know that "very unique" makes no sense at all. "Unique" means one of a kind. "Very unique" is just silly.
Achoo! All these adverbs have me racing for a hanky. Not running quickly or walking swiftly. Racing. A good, undiluted verb.