What is on-the-nose writing? It’s the number one writing mistake of amateurs. It’s prose that mirrors real life without advancing your story. No one chooses to write this way. It has nothing to do with your ability to put together a sentence, paragraph, or scene. Even pros have a hard time with it.
I’m a big fan or Jerry Jenkins and recommend his blog to anyone reading my posts. I have gained so much useful information from him, and he writes in a way that anybody can understand. He’s a great teacher. With this being said, I’m using an example that he gave to help you understand on-the-nose writing.
Paige’s phone chirped, telling her she had a call. She slid her bag off her shoulder, opened it, pulled out her cell, hit the Accept Call button and put it to her ear.
“This is Paige,” she said.
She recognized her fiancé’s voice. “Jim, darling! Hello!”
“Where are you, Babe?”
“Just got to the parking garage.”
“No more problems with the car then?”
“Oh, the guy at the gas station said he thinks it needs a wheel alignment.”
“Good. We still on for tonight?”
“Looking forward to it, Sweetie.”
“Did you hear about Alyson?”
“No, what about her?”
Here’s a good example of how that scene should be rendered:
Paige’s phone chirped. It was her fiancé, Jim, and he told her something about one of their best friends that made her forget where she was.
“Cancer?” she whispered, barely able to speak. “I didn’t even know Alyson was sick. Did you?”
We don’t need to be told that the chirp told her she had a call, that her phone is in her purse, that her purse is over her shoulder, that she has to open it to get her phone, push a button to take the call, identify herself to the caller, be informed who it is. I think you’re getting the point.
This is a good example of dragging dialogue as well. It’s not necessary and adds fluff without any real purpose. Don’t distract with minutia. Give the reader the adventure they signed up for when they chose to purchase your book. Take the reader with Paige when she says:
“I need to call her, Jim. I’ve got to cancel my meeting. And I don’t know about tonight…”
Remember show don’t tell is one of the most important aphorisms of the writing life.
3 thoughts on “On-The -Nose-Writing”
This was great! Thank you for the examples.
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Thank you! I still do it as well, and as you said, I catch most of it during revisions. What I miss my critique partners usually point out.
Great post and a solid example to drive the point. I know when I’m looking at friends/clients work this issue jumps out at me. I even fall prey to it myself. Especially when I am pushing through the discovery draft (first draft). It’s easy to fix in the second sweep, but a great thing to look out for and tighten up. Thanks for sharing!
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