112. Rules bestselling authors ignore

Neil MacDonald Author

Writers are taught many rules by the greats. But should we believe them?

Stephen King adverbsAvoid adverbs

Stephen King famously said “the road to hell is paved with adverbs” and urged writers to eliminate them. Three years ago, I wrote in defence of these much maligned parts of speech.

Now we have some objective analysis of the truth or otherwise of the dictum. Ben Blatt analysed the more than 300 novels that reached number one on the New York Times bestseller list since 2000 and the 100 most recent winners of literary awards. He compared these “professional” authors with a sample of 9,000 “amateurs” who had written novel-length fan fiction. The professionals used around 114 adverbs per 10,000 words, compared to 154 by the amateurs. So there is a correlation between fewer adverbs and literary success. As you can see from the graphic, I used 44 adverbs per 10,000 words in…

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