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a:Flash Fiction Contest Tips: Eliminating Adverbs


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Hello WOW Readers! I have been one of the first-tier contest judges for WOW’s quarterly flash fiction contest for over a decade, and it has been a huge pleasure to read your stories. I am writing this blog series on Flash Fiction Contest Tips to help you strengthen your flash writing and maybe even place in one of our contests! Tips are based on our scoring criteria and craft trends I’ve seen throughout the decade. 


TECHNIAL is one of the scoring categories for the flash fiction contest, and one criterion within that category is overuse of adverbs. Adverbs are words that modify or describe verbs, adjectives, clauses, or other adverbs. 


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If a story contains too many unnecessary adverbs – and many of them are unnecessary, especially in a creative work – it hurts your story’s rating and could make or break your story’s chance of getting passed to the contest’s guest judge. The good news is that adverbs are an easy item to edit out of your story! 


Consider the following sentence: 

She bravely stood and unflinchingly grabbed the sword from the stone, which was precariously placed on top of a cliff where a storm was quickly brewing. 

Sure, this sentence has a lot of tension, but it is a mouthful with all of the adverbs. The adverbs not only make it wordy, but they do more to tell than show the scene. The bottom line is that they weaken the writing. Adverbs often – but not always – end in -ly, which can make most of them easy to spot. Some common adverbs that don’t end in -ly are quite, well, and very. 

Let’s revisit the sentence above. How many adverbs can you spot? 

She bravely stood and unflinchingly grabbed the sword from the stone, which was precariously placed on top of a cliff where a storm was quickly brewing. 

There are five in this short sentence. So, what can you do about it? The easiest, and often the best, option is to just eliminate the unnecessary ones. Poof! They’re gone: 

She stood and grabbed the sword from the stone, which was placed on top of a cliff where a storm was brewing. 

Hooray! We just eliminated four unneeded words. (Unless we choose to further edit this sentence, “where” is necessary here.) In flash fiction, as you know, word count is limited, so you want to make every word count. There are additional ways to reduce the wordiness in this sentence, but that may be a tip for another day! 

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Tips brought to you by Anne Greenawalt, who keeps a blog of journal entries, memoir snippets, interviews, training logs, book reviews, and profiles of writers and competitive sportswomen. She is a writer for WOW! Women on Writing, Trail Sisters, and StoryTerrace. She has a master's degree in Creative Writing: Prose from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England and a doctorate in Adult Education from Penn State University. She is also a competitive swimmer, a trail adventurer, a dog lover, and a new mom. Tweets @dr_greenawalt.

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