Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Writer's Alphabet - S is for Show, Don't Tell

There are several things I do wrong every time I write a novel, a short story, or, let's face it, a paragraph.  I use the word clearly uncomfortably often, I use way too many asterisks in the middle of the chapter, and I struggle with my letter for the day.  S is for show, don't tell.

It took me forever to realize what I was doing.  Longer to CHANGE what I was doing when prompted by my editor.  And I still have trouble every day RECOGNIZING what I am doing. (Again, a serious shout-out to my editor, who puts up with my crap and rubs my nose in it like a dog that crapped on the carpet.) The good news for you, is I can totally DESCRIBE it.

Show, don't tell means exactly what it says.  In your novel, you should not say someone got mad. No, you need to write them stomping across the floor and slamming the screen door behind them. See what I did there?  I SHOWED you anger instead of saying it.  Making the reader see what you are talking about gives them vision into your vision, and gives them a way to care about your character.  Easy, right.  Yeah, I still didn't get it.  Finally, I found a way to keep it in my head at all times.  The easiest way for me to remember it is this:  If it sounds like you are reporting the scene, as though on the news, you aren't showing.  The telling is all about who/what/when/where/how and showing is the emotional aspect of it.  Look, here are a couple of examples.

Tell:  Her face registered disapproval.
Show: She paused, her eyes narrowing, and pursed her lips in distaste.

Tell:  He quickly walked across the floor toward her.
Show:  Closing the distance between them, he strode purposefully, long legs pumping.

Tell:  She barely smiled.
Show:  The corners of her lips turned up, so slightly he wasn't sure if he had made her happy or not.

Some other tips:  your action words have to be lively to be showing, not telling.  Don't use the words "are", "is" "has" or "have".  Replace them with an action word that actually is a movement.
"Aged" "stretched" "resided" "argues".  These words all imply action, instead of being passive.

Also, use all your five senses in your descriptors.  Instead of REPORTING how she looked, tell us how she smelled, how soft her skin was, how her laughter was like chimes.

Use compelling adjectives.  Words like "pretty", "cool", "good" "bad" should be replaced with stunning, quirky, grand, or hateful.  See?  Way more interesting, thought-provoking, right?

Can you think of some more great examples?  Share them here, most of the readers of the bloggy enjoy the tips!

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