Posts Tagged ‘writing advice’

Show, Don’t Tell

Friday, February 26th, 2010

This is a writing maxim that often surfaces in critiques.  Many inexperienced writers carry the show to extremes.  Having seen the “show don’t tell” admonition in every book on fiction writing, they assume that every instance of telling is wrong.  The reality is that every story is a combination of showing and telling. BABS coverWhile showing is a must for action scenes, telling is useful for compressing time and space.  Description is usually telling.  So is all exposition.  Both description and exposition are necessary ingredients in every story.  Taking the SDT principle to its extreme usage, the story will degenerate into a series of trivial actions.  A few simple examples will clarify this issue:

Telling:

Janet took a shower.

Showing:

Janet went into the bathroom, stripped, turned on the water and adjusted the temperature.  She stepped in and allowed the water to flow over her body and hair.  She squeezed shampoo into her hand and washed her hair . . . This is showing, but to what purpose?  What reader will want to be ’shown’ Janet taking the shower when there are more important and interesting events waiting to be revealed.  The telling took four words.  The showing took thirty-eight and counting.  While the longer example satisfies the SDT rule, it is dull.

As you can see from the example, telling advances the story without bogging it down in trivia.

This brief essay is taken from my Build a Better Story ebook on fiction writing.  It’s scheduled to be released in March, 2010.

Empty Words

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

This paragraph is taken from Build a Better Story, my ebook that contains my fiction-writing articles and advice for beginning writers.


These are words such as: very, even, ever, really, still, just.  In many cases, they have no individual meaning and only increase the word count.  In our real-world conversations, these words are used almost as punctuation marks and that usage carries over into our writing.  The test for an empty word is to remove it from the sentence and see if the meaning changes.  It doesn’t change than there is no need to include the word.  This advice applies to exposition, not dialog.  Since these words are sprinkled throughout our normal speech, a few appearances of these words make dialog sound more natural.



Here is the Table of Contents for Build a Better Story:

  • Story Construction
  • Motivation
  • Patience
  • Character Development
  • Plotting a Story
  • Daytime TV
  • Writing humor
  • Writing a scene
  • Point of view
  • Setting
  • Getting Started
  • Writing Tips
  • Odds & Ends
  • Story Construction Flow Chart
  • Books on Writing
  • Writing Forms
  • About the Author



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Death to Adverbs

Sunday, August 9th, 2009

This short essay is take from Build a Better Story my collection of fiction writing articles and advice:

Many stories overuse adverbs to a point where it is almost impossible to read the story.  In these cases, the abundant -ly words give the writing a sing-song aspect.  Adverbs should be restricted to one or two words per story.  Even then, ponder whether the adverbs have to be used.  One reason to avoid their usage is because many applications of adverbs are violations of the “Show Don’t Tell” rule of writing.BABS cover

Consider this example:

[ 'Blab, blah, blah,' said character M, nervously.]

Here the author tells the reader about the mental state of character M.  Revised to omit the adverb, the example looks like this:

['Blah, blah, blah,' said character M as she shredded a paper napkin.]

Now the author has shown character M acting nervously.  This is a big improvement over the adverb example because it forces the reader to use her mental powers to understand the character’s emotional state.  Readers love to do this so why deprive them of the pleasure by using adverbs.

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