Showing posts with label don't tell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label don't tell. Show all posts

Monday, December 9, 2013

Trust your Readers--Part 1

One of the hardest writing skills to master is the art of knowing what to take out.  Many rough drafts are guilty of repetition and over-explanation.  Consider the dangers of spoon-feeding your readers.  At best, you'll come off as lacking subtlety.  You'll rob your readers of the chance to exercise their brains.  At worst, you'll annoy them or insult their intelligence.  If you want to lose readers, there's no better way than by talking down to them.  If you want to keep readers, set things up and then trust them to draw the conclusion for themselves.

Problem #1:  Showing and then Telling.

A lot is said about how writers must "show, not tell."  Generally it's good advice, though telling sometimes works better and you shouldn't be afraid of using both strategies, depending on the situation.  What you really want to avoid is showing and then telling.  Here are some examples.

He slammed his fist against the table, stood up, and threw the telephone at the wall so hard the paint chipped.  He was angry.

Your reader figured out he was angry from his actions.  Cut out the last three words and let the action stand.

"What?  I had no idea!"  Ben was surprised.

The dialogue indicates Ben's surprise.  No need to tell us.

People were sharing seats, squatting in the aisles, and pressing themselves against the back wall.

"It's crowded in here," she said. 

Yes, Mistress of the Obvious, it is indeed crowded.

Dressed in his fluorescent vest, he stepped into the street, enjoying the power he and his sign held over the impatient drivers in the stopped cars.  The kids skipped past, chatting and laughing, texting and teasing.  Once his flock made it safely across, he hopped back onto the curb.  He liked his job as a crossing guard.

If you're afraid your readers won't understand what he's doing, or how he's feeling about it, revise your showing section.  Don't just tack a bit of telling on the end.  If you've done your job well enough, the reader will get it.

These are pretty blatant misuses of telling, though they pepper the manuscripts I've been reading lately.  What most of us need to look for in our own work are the less glaring examples.

Adam lifted his hand to knock on the front door, but the moment his knuckles hit, the door gave way and swung open by itself.  The hall lay empty, quiet.


The nightlight was still on.  Dad always turned it off when he got up at dawn. 


Something scritch-scratched in the living room.  Adam grabbed an umbrella from the stand by the door and held it up, facing the archway.  Bowser, ears sagging, padded through and whined at Adam's feet.  Something was wrong. 

"Something was wrong" can amp up the tension, but make sure it actually does so.  Otherwise, you're just negating all your showing.  Take out the last line and see what you think. 

Solution to Showing and then Telling:

When you revise, read your work slowly and look especially for direct subjective descriptions ("She was beautiful, The city was exciting") and statements about how people feel or what they want (John was happy.  Levi hoped she would stay).  Then check to see if you showed the same thing immediately before.  If so, cut out the telling.  Read it again a couple of days later and if it still makes sense, you didn't need it.  Your writing will be stronger for it.

Next time: 

Melinda Brasher is the author of Far-Knowing, a YA fantasy novel, and Leaving Home, a collection of short stories, travel essays, and flash fiction.  Her fiction appears in THEMA Literary Journal, Enchanted Conversation, Ellipsis Literature and Art, and others.  Visit her blog for all the latest:

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Show Me!

            Experienced writers have learned this less well, but less experienced writers are still learning it or have it yet to learn. Even for experienced writers it is good to review it every so often. What am I talking about? The “show, don’t tell” rule of writing. It sounds so simple, and yet it is one of the hardest to learn for some of us.

            Telling is what you see with narratives, and it is okay in the proper prospective. But you do not want to fill your book with telling your story. Your readers like action, dialog, descriptions, emotions, all the things that your readers can take and create a picture in their minds.

            Show your story. Give it characters your reader can fall in love with and want more of them. Give them a setting or location that their mind can grab hold of and feel they are right there with the characters. Make the characters speak to them and create action that keeps the story moving. Give descriptions of the setting and characters through narrative and some through dialog, but do not insult your readers by giving them every little detail. Readers like to be a bit creative themselves so give just enough to stimulate their own imaginations, and let them run with it.

            When you have fast-paced scenes, it is good to slow things down and give your reader a chance to breathe. Your story should run in waves of fast pace and slow pace. That is where the narrative comes in. You can use it to slow down the pace of the story.

            Someone once told me to read through my story; and if there are areas where I am telling, ask myself if there is a way I can show it rather than tell it. If there are, then I need to change it.

            Narratives do serve a purpose, so remember not to change all of them. Also remember, it is the author’s responsibility to create a world in which his/her readers can get lost and want more of it.

            Following are some points to remember when self-editing your work:  1) How often do you use narrative summary?  2) Which sections do you want to convert into scenes (action)?
3) Do you have any narrative summary? (You do need some.)  4) Are you describing your characters’ feelings or are you showing them?

Faye M. Tollison
Author of:  To Tell the Truth
Upcoming books:  The Bible Murders
                                Sarah’s Secret
Member of:  Sisters In Crime
                      Writers on the Move

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