My new realization on "Show vs Tell"

Man, I thought I’d have time to post yesterday, but a friend got married and me, my gran and my mom did the flowers for her.

Being a total novice at flower arranging, I thought it’d be easy. It wasn’t. We spent most of the past two days standing, and believe it or not, those arrangements are HEAVY. Add to that the fact that it was a garden wedding with no shade and at the hottest part of a summer’s day, and it all adds up to exhaustion.

But today I’m a bit more relaxed, putting up my feet and reading my new crit partners’ WiPs and suggestions for  mine.

One WiP I’m critting got me thinking about something interesting. We all know about the “rule” show don’t tell. And if you’ve been writing and reading about writing long enough, you’ll know why this “rule” exists.

It draws the reader in more, letting him/her experience the story as close to the same way as the character as possible. Doing that, the reader gets sucked in, which is something any fiction writer worth his/her salt should want.

There’s something else I realized just now, that I thought I should share. Showing events rather than telling gives us as writers more scope in a story. It gives us more depth.

Let’s say, for example, that the main character’s mother died at a young age. You as writer could mention it briefly and let the story progress (telling) OR you could show the effect the mother’s death has on the character. So how does this open up the story more?

By exploring something you would have just mentioned, you might find the internal conflict you didn’t know you needed. You might even find a subplot that makes the main one stronger. You might even find a solution to a plot hole in a surprising place.

So showing strengthens a story in more ways than the conventional wisdom states. Don’t miss a chance to expand your book’s horizons, just because a scene doesn’t seem to fit the plan. It might just be the difference between a good read and a great one, and leaving emotions un-shown is just one huge missed opportunity.

Have you found an unexpected but perfect story element by delving deeper into something a character just mentioned in the rough draft?

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A to Z Challenge: Verbs

I know I know. V is for Verbs is not very original when it comes to the A to Zs of editing and revisions. Still, it’s way too important to skip. In fact, the way I think of verbs in edits is sort of a massive category, so we’ll have to see how much ground I can cover. I think to keep things… relatable, I’m going to do this by function – according to my convoluted thinking, at least.

Firstly, verbs indicate action. Actions by your character, actions to your character. Yes people, I’m talking about active vs. passive sentences. Far be it from me to say that passive tense must NEVER be included anywhere in a story. (I guess I should have mentioned with every post that nothing is written in stone… oops.) But. Too much passive tense will have the reader wondering why they’re rooting for a hero that lets the universe randomly do stuff to him when the baddie is out there doing things. If you read through your work and notice too many: “Something WAS done BY someone/something else.” sentences, you might want to work on getting more active tense in. Remember: put the emphasis on the most important thing. More often than not, that will be your characters. So put them first in the sentence.

No. I am not saying “‘was’ is evil and should die a slow death”. In fact, ask my CPs. I adore “was” in all its forms. But verbs also describe actions. And sadly, “was” is… somewhat generic. As are verbs like: look, walk, have, say and so on. Yes, these verbs tell us what someone is doing, but are they telling us how? No. And that’s why adverbs sneak into writing, because suddenly they’re necessary to describe how the character is doing something. Do you say something angrily? No. You grind it out between your teeth. Do you walk insolently? No… you saunter. So make sure as many verbs as possible carry enough weight to describe as well. Get it? Got it? Good. Next. (Notice: I’m not saying adverbs are evil.)

Next, verbs can indicate time. Yep… There is more than one way to use a past tense. So if your story is written in past tense, make sure that things happening before the exact point in your story are referred to in past perfect. I.e. not “I ate” but “I had eaten.” Or better. “I had munched.” if that’s exactly what your character did. There are many other little changes that happen when characters or narration have to refer to something happening in the past, so I strongly suggest that you familiarize yourself with them when editing.

In addition, verbs agree with their subjects. So no “He say’s” or “They does’s” unless it’s in dialogue or you’re going for a specific flavor in your narrative.

Verbs also lend meaning to a sentence. So sometimes, the way you use a verb can change what a sentence means. For example: “I remembered to do my homework.” and “I remembered doing my homework.” Yes, they might look like they mean the same thing, but depending on context, the first implies that the homework isn’t done, while the second implies that it was done (possibly at some point in the more distant past). This can depend on context and feel a lot, so keep an eye out.

Finally, verbs can indicate things happening at the same time. “Doing one thing, he did another.” Nothing wrong with that, but I find that sentence structure addictive. It’s a lazy way to show things happening at the same time. As supposed to being more inventive. So… those sentences can riddle a writer’s works like weeds. Another one (and I’ve heard that it can be a red flag for agents) is when a writer indicates two things occurring at the same time, when they’re physically impossible. “Standing with his cup of coffee, he sat down.” or “Driving home, he got out of the car.” Those ones, you have to look out for, because they’re incredibly annoying to read.

Look Out for These:

1) Generic verbs and repetition that lessens the depth of your words.  

2) Passive tense and gerunds changing the meaning of a sentence or story.

3) Tenses and concurrent happenings that don’t make sense.

What is your vice when it comes to verbs?

A to Z Challenge: Use All Senses

Credit

There’s more to telling a story than simply relaying events to a reader in chronological (or whichever you prefer) order.

No, readers need to be drawn in. They need to share experiences with the story’s characters. That can’t really be done if the reader can’t get a sense of what’s going on around the characters.

Where are they?

What are they seeing?

Touching? How does it feel?

What are they smelling?

What are they hearing? How clearly?

I’m not saying that I’m looking for five pages of pure description. But still, hinting at a characters surroundings would be good. Otherwise we readers have nothing but a thick white mist around the characters in our mind.

So how does one do that? Especially since writers can’t use pages of description?

By having the character notice things. Not a million things at the same time. Just the most immediately pressing ones in tense situations. So seeing and feeling, most likely.

If a situation is more relaxed, people tend to notice more. And so should your character. Only don’t make it obvious. Think of how you perceive things. Do you make a point of making a list of every single thing about a new room? Most likely not. But certain things will catch your eye. Like a window glinting. Or a scatter cushion being out of place. Something like that.

The same for the other senses. Your character won’t try to take stock of every tiny little thing. But something will stand out. A high pitched whistle. The smell of unwashed bodies. The dry, almost gritty taste of smoke.

Always remember two things:

1) It’s about balance. Never focus on only one sense at a time. But don’t use all of them at the same time either, unless the situation is overwhelmingly strong. Or if you character has keen powers of observation.

2) Quality over quantity. Too much description can slow a story to a halt, so rather go for well chosen and well blended moments that mean more and put a reader firmly in the story.

Look Out for These:

1) “White” scenes where the characters don’t react to or interact with their surroundings.

2) Pages and pages of meaningless description.

3) A lack of certain senses in description. Especially taste and smell, since they seem to be neglected the most.

Which senses do you forget about in description? Do are you a minimalist when it comes to description? Or do you have to restrain yourself?

A to Z Challenge: Telling

Depending on your style of writing, telling can kill the reader’s experience. After all, if the reader is trying to immerse him/herself in the world of a book, having the writer tell them how or why something happened can be singularly annoying.

To my mind, there are two ways to tell in writing. Both are bad for my style, although I know that having an omniscient narration changes things. Point is, if you don’t, these two are definitely priority things to fix.

The first way to tell is in the way you describe things and actions. In a story, the reader needs to experience everything through the point of view character. So suddenly having a generic sort of sentence telling them something doesn’t work.

What will fit better? (Assuming that the character isn’t a boring sort of person.)



Credit

The plate had a blue pattern on it.

Or…

The plate’s rich blue pattern told the age old story of star-crossed lovers fleeing together in search of a chance together.

Yeah yeah, I know that neither is Shakespeare, but I think you get the point.

The other tell would be in narrative. Don’t tell everything. Account for everything, yes, but not in such a way that reveals everything immediately. Because if you do that, you lose a lot of tension. And as you know, tension is one thing you don’t want to lose.

So if something important is happening, make sure that you make the event noticeable, but it’s usually quite important that the reader can’t figure out what will happen because of that event. Predictability is not your friend.

When editing both types of tells, the secret is in wrapping the information in a lovely veil of words that will either decorate or disguise what you’re trying to say. But for heaven’s sake, don’t be obscure.

Look Out for These:

1) Phrases like: he saw, he thought, she felt, it tasted. Anything that puts a distance between the character’s and reader’s experiences of the same thing. Also: something was (insert description) or he/she/it had (insert description).

2) Having a character over-narrate, revealing the importance of something before its time.

3) Back-story that’s dumped in huge chunks that aren’t naturally flowing from the story.

Got any tips for cutting telling out of narration?

Showing vs. Telling

I knew this post wouldn’t take long to get onto my blog.


After all, a large portion of my revision time is spent searching out Telling sentences.


So what is a telling sentence?


To my mind, almost every sentence containing some form of the verb is. Worst case scenario: form of verb is and a form of verb be.


E.g. He was so annoyed right then.


or


He was being occupied by that girl again.


Brrr. Terrible.


But how to solve it?


I try to do it in a few steps.


1) I look for the point I’m trying to convey. The first sentence is about the guy’s annoyance. The second one is about the girl occupying him.


2) Then I determine the feeling that I’m trying to bring across. In the first sentence, it seems to be about the guy’s anger/frustration/annoyance. The second one is about the View Point Character’s annoyance with the situation (the that gave it away).


3) Finally, I put the two together, using actions, stronger verbs and the VP Characters feeling. Note: There’s no rule that says that all this has to be done in one sentence.


So sentence one will change to:


His eyes narrowed as his anger rolled over me in waves. My bravado fled as he took a menacing step forward. I really shouldn’t have pushed him this far.


And sentence two:


No… that bastard wouldn’t rush for the world. Not with the leggy blond draping herself over his shoulders. I grasped my champagne glass and downed the contents.


Those sentences still aren’t that perfect, but at least they give me something to work with in future round of edits.


How do you convert “Tells” to “Shows”?