Friday, May 16, 2008

The Ten-Point Revision Strategy - #2 Show Don't Tell

This one is an axiom for all fiction writing, regardless of genre.

Show Don't Tell.

I fall into this trap more often than I'd like to admit, and it rears it's ugly heads in a number of ways.

Narrative exposition
Overuse of adverbs
Horrible dialogue tags

All of the above take the reader out of the story as the author insists they step in and make a point. At my writing group last night Les pointed out that three times on the first CD of the Iris Johansen book he was listening to she wrote, "She nodded her head jerkily."

I don't think I've ever nodded my head jerkily. That is lazy writing. That is the author (a mega-bestseller) not taking the time to show us an action, or create a visual through her use of action, and instead relying upon the most clumsy adverb I've ever seen.

Usually, Show Don't Tell, is a corollary to the first point of our Ten Point Revision Strategy; RUE, Resist the Urge to Explain. It is the author feeling that the reader is too stupid to understand why a character is behaving the way they are without first telling us why. It appears in situations like this.

Bill is an angry guy. He get's pissed off all the time, traffic lights, slow Starbucks lines, commercials on T.V. It's just the way he is. But rather than writing what I just did, the way to bring this into a story is to simply show Bill getting mad. It's much more effective at describing the character than telling me that he's an angry guy.

The trick for the good author is to create a situation where we can see Bill getting mad, through action or dialogue, that is actually a part of the story and moves the story forward.

In the end, that's the key to all ten points of our revision strategy. Move the story forward.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

good thinking