I think something important to remember is that adverbs have a purpose. They are useful, sometimes crucial, and should not be cut completely from your writing. There is a happy medium between ‘so many adverbs your conscious readers will want to bang their head against the nearest solid object’ and ‘no adverbs at all’.
In all honesty, it really comes down to judgment. An adverb serves a very specific purpose—it adds further meaning to a verb. A good rule of thumb is to not use an adverb where a more complex verb will do. Instead of saying someone ‘glared darkly’, you could say they ‘glowered’. Instead of saying they ‘said angrily’, you could say they ‘snapped’. But it’s also important to remember exact definitions and context! Don’t use a word just because you found it in a thesaurus and it sounds cool—be sure you know what words mean and whether or not they apply given the context of the sentence.
Then, decide whether that verb really needs an adverb. Sometimes they do! No one is going to throw things at you for using adverbs sparingly, but that is the key. And if you take the time to look up words, synonyms and their meanings, and if you play around with sentence structure, your writing will become stronger for it. If your character is explaining something condescendingly, maybe describe his or her tone, or perhaps even describe the expression s/he is wearing at the time. For instance:
"… It’s really incredibly simple," she said slowly, as though speaking to a small child. An unpleasant sneer curled her mouth as she stared down at the engineer.
Showing, rather than telling, is another important tool in the writer’s arsenal. But sometimes you just need to tell the readers what’s going on, and sometimes you’ve just gotta modify that verb! Moderation is key, and that’s the bottom line. But don’t be afraid to experiment!
This has been a week of copy editing. As I was researching what such an undertaking would cost me and whom I could trust to do the work, I happened upon a few sets of suggestions to self-edit before sending one’s masterpiece to a total stranger.
Some of them I have on my check (and check again) list. Such as the -ward triplets (toward, forward, backward). I also have a die hard habit of double spacing between sentences. But the adverb thing threw me.
I was unaware of how often I use adverbs.
I use them abundantly. And in many cases they were modifying where they were not needed. In such cases, I deleted without mercy. In others, the adverbs added to the style of the phrasing. Most of those were left intact. Sometimes I had to reword a sentence.
But there were several instances in which the adverb saved me a handful of other words. Those stayed in.
I was pleased to find I used them less frequently in dialogue, and in a long section of narrative explication by one character to another, I used only two adverbs. So, at least I give my characters different voices from my narrator.
p.s. Of course the long section of narration is punctuated with reactions to break it up.
p.p.s. I’d love to skip to the bit where the film version is green-lit and Tennant is cast. As I’ve been editing, I keep hearing Peter’s dialogue in his voice and it really must be made available for the rest of you to hear.
p.p.p.s. The use of “really” in that last sentence was an example of the stylistic adverb. It makes me sound sort of British.