Tag Archives: Thought

PSA-Show, don’t tell! #amwriting

I’ve been reading for review a plethora of indie authors’ works.

Please, please SHOW me the story.  Don’t tell me or I’ll start skipping pages.  I read books to immerse my imagination into a different world, not to be a passive receptacle for your story.

I have three examples and will only name names on the positive one.

First up is a little story, a romance, about two people who’ve found their way back to each other.  We’re told why she’s in the place she is, we’re told why he’s suddenly there.  Tell tell tell, blah blah blah. Don’t care.  The story doesn’t even start until their eyes meet because it’s a romance.  Can’t the author just use the characters’  conversation to tell us the backstory the author just told us?  Can’t we see and feel what it’s like for the couple to link up after a decade or so apart and pining for each other?  Nope!  The author needs to tell us every little thing, which was blah and “Make it stop!!”

The second is a good sized book that I sampled and am not interested in buying.  It’s very erotic so that’s fun, but is way heavy on the tell.  Every little detail of their surroundings, people, everything, is described and most often in passive voice.  The only time this isn’t going on is during the goings on.  Sex is the only show in this tale of tell.  Which could be a great literary device if the author wanted only the sex to be exciting and all that character development stuff to be dull filler as contrast.  I skimmed it because blah blah blah.  I was relieved to reach the end of the sample that it was over at last.

The third? It’s a first person memoir that by all rights should be dull.  Something you read to fall asleep.  I’ve been writing and going to writer events for twenty years and have had many many people tell me “I’m writing my life story because it’s soooo interesting.”  99% of the time, no.  No, it isn’t.  Unless you’re Chuck Yeager, Richard Branson, or a Red Bull addicted spokesperson, don’t.  Just don’t.  Your mother does and even then she’s pretending.

Or so I thought until Thomas Sartain began telling me his story.  He had not only me but everyone at the conference enthralled, making my “Not another life story!!” thought obsolete.  I had the privilege to read his somewhat rough draft and it was amazing even in the rough.  He’s since published Thirty Days and a Wake Up, and it’s a wonderful book.  Told in first person, the story unfold in a shown way.  As the reader, you’re there when Thomas witnesses his first murder, when he leads his first robbery, and when he is first sent to prison. You feel what he feels and see only what he sees, not told about every single thing in his environment.  If you want to read a true, gritty, and gripping story, click the link above and at least read the sample.  It’s really worth the effort.

I could spend the rest of the post explaining exactly how and when to show versus tell.  Plus, there’s times when the story is better with a bit of telling instead of the constant show.  Instead, I’ll link to an article that creative writers really need to improve their work.  If you’re an author who truly wants to be the best you can be, go read the information.  I’ve skimmed through the first half.  When I hit publish on this post, I’m reading all of the article to see if there’s anything more I can learn and I’m pretty sure there is something I’ll need to know.

The Show Versus Tell Debate

Is anything ever fast enough?

My idea for this entry was a wa wa about how long it’s taken me to get The Very Best Man out the door and onto Kindle.

I’ve changed my mind.

Instead, I’m posting some writing rules I tend to follow.  I’ve been writing fiction of some sort for the past 22 years and have picked up a few things.  Of course, I’ve not picked up perfect grammar, but that’s why Microsoft’s Word checks for it, now.

1. Show, don’t tell.  Really.  Because when I read a lot of something told to me in fiction, I think “Bla bla bla, get to the good stuff.”  Should I blame the Age of Instant?  Historically, a lot of writers have done this, telling is what happened/is happening versus letting the story unfold before our eyes.  At any rate, during my editing process, telling always gets cut or rewritten.

2. Linking verbs are icky.  Linking verbs are passive. Or, how about, “Avoid the passive and icky linking verbs.”  In a world of CGI and the effects making writing moot, you’ll need to up the voltage on your verbs.  If you can avoid am, is, are, was, were, had, has, could, would, should, and their various had been, could be, should have’s, then do so.  There’s always an exception, though, and passives can be used in a good way.  If your character is a passive person, letting things happen to them, then putting their entire point of view in a passive form is a subtle way of conveying their state of mind without having to tell the reader.  Score one for showing.

3. Point of view.  This is fun and difficult.  I tend to struggle with this at times, being the omnipotent writer and all.  If I’ve done my work and created 3D characters, it’s not so tough to put myself in their place and think their thoughts.  Which is what POV is.  As a writer, you are not yourself in a story, you’re the character.  Is the character you?  Not unless you’re writing an autobiography.  You’ll want your character to be so real that if they knocked on your door, you’d know them instantly.  The problems in POV come from the writer forgetting a character can’t see the blush on her own face.  Another character in the story can’t know the hero’s thoughts unless she’s saying them, or he knows her facial expressions so well he can guess.  Sometimes, I keep a single POV for the entire chapter, sometimes, I divide up the chapter and give it the he says/she says treatment.  One thing to avoid is switching POV’s in the middle of a paragraph.  He’s thinking about the other person and without a paragraph break to let the reader know it, the other person says something.

George looked at Martha.  Her dress, soiled around the hem, clued him in on her morning gardening activities.   “You’ve been busy already.” He smiled at her.  “I’ve picked plenty of okra for dinner tonight,” she said, holding up a basket of greenery.

It’s crude and off the cuff, but my own example.  While not totally confusing, the lack of a paragraph break kicks the reader out of the story and you don’t want that.  Which leads to…

4. Hooks.  You need them.  Even the best written story in the world isn’t going to work if there’s nothing keeping the pages turning.  We’ve evolved past the Me Generation into the What’s In It For Me? mentality.  You need to have a pay off for the reader.  What does this mean?  The protagonist needs a secret, an ultimate goal, a reason to get from point a to point b.  Thanks to the Age of Instant and What’s In It For Me?, hooking the reader in the first five pages is the writer’s goal.  Show us why the hero is keeping a secret, has a goal bigger than himself, or needs to get from a to b.  After that, throw roadblocks/hurdles for him to overcome until the final “no one can survive/surpass this” hurdle.

5. Sex, Violence, and Drama.  Readers love all three.  Look at the top five of any list, movies in theaters, best sellers, even songs, and you’ll see how true this is.  This final point would actually be a really good discussion point.  As much as I’d like to, I have a tough time inserting gratuitous sex and violence into my work, and the drama is somewhat tough, too.  I’d love to hear from other writers who are struggling to keep OUT the three, and readers’ opinions on how much is too much or not enough.