Show Don’t Tell!

screen-shot-2013-11-20-at-3-24-03-pmI can’t count how many times I’ve heard this phrase. You probably saw the title and questioned reading it. Everybody knows you are suppose to show and not tell. You want the reader to experience the scene as if they are one of the characters walking through the story beside the hero/heroine.

If you’re like me, you know what you’re suppose to do, but you don’t really understand what to do to make it happen. How do I show and not tell? It’s a lot harder than it seems. Once you start writing that novel, you’ll understand what I’m talking about.

There are 5 tools for showing

  • Dialogue
  • Action
  • Interior dialogue
  • Interior emotion
  • Description-Sensory

If you’re doing anything that’s not one of these 5 things, you’re not showing.

Why is it so important to show versus tell? Showing provides your reader with a powerful emotional experience. If you want to be a best selling author, that’s what you have to do.

It doesn’t matter how great you do everything else in that novel, if you’re missing that emotional experience, you lose. If everything you did is bad, but you have a great emotional experience, you may still win.

It all comes down to the take away. Every great novelist will tell you, you have to give your reader that powerful emotional experience, or they wont be coming back.

-Something to think about ūüôā

-Jan R

Show Don’t Tell!

Strong Nouns?

scan0006We’ve talked about weak and strong verbs, but did you know the same holds true for nouns? I never really thought about it, until I took an online class that talked about strong and weak nouns. My first thought on weak nouns; the instructor has to be referring to pronouns. Well he wasn’t and that is a subject for another day.

Strong nouns can help us picture what/who the writer is talking about immediately. He doesn’t have to describe the person, place, or thing. We get it. The more specific the noun, the clearer the picture.

If I wrote city, dog, or car in a sentence, you would picture your version of a city, dog, or car in your mind. While these nouns aren’t bad they could be made stronger. An upgrade would be; New York City, German Shepherd, or Ford Mustang. While you may want to make that mustang candy apple red, it doesn’t need much more detail to get a clear picture of the author’s intent.

Names are also strong nouns. Cinderella, Clark Kent, and Harry Potter, all conjure up strong images in your mind.

Weak nouns require additional information to create a clear image in your mind.  The weaker the noun, the more information you will need to provide.

Most weak or dead nouns end in ‘tion’. Examples would be publication, devotion, recitation, adaptation.

These nouns tend to way your sentences down and as stated above, require more detail to produce a clear image. The best way to address these weak nouns, is to change them back into verbs, and rework the sentence.

The couple’s separation occurred at the end of the year.

The couple separated at the end of the year.

Just something else to think about while you’re writing that best selling novel ūüôā

-Jan R

 

 

Strong Nouns?

Choose Your Words Wisely!

seo-content-writing3-1024x458I have been accused and rightly so of on-the-nose-writing, over writing, redundancies, and throat-clearing. I’ve also had a close relationship with the words “that” and “had”. I blame it on inexperience and just not knowing any better.

Novelist and editor Sol Stein says the power of your words is diminished by not picking just the better one. “He proved a scrappy, active fighter,” is more powerful if you settle on the stronger of those two adjectives. Less is more. Which would you choose?

When editing your draft, remember that every word counts. Every word should have a reason for being and not just added fluff. “It sounds good,” won’t cut it.

  • Avoid throat-clearing- This is a literary term used to describe a story or chapter that finally begins after two or three pages of scene setting or backstory. You may write beautifully but nobody wants to get bogged down in description. I could care less the dutchess wore a¬†gown with six gold buttons encrusted with diamond dust running down the back, unless it was found at a crime scene. Get on with the story.
  • Choose normal words– When you’re tempted to show off your vocabulary, think reader-first. Get out of the way of your message.
  • Avoid subtle redundancies– “She nodded her head in agreement.” Those last four words could be deleted. When you nod, it’s your head and if you nod, you are agreeing. You don’t have to tell your reader this. “He clapped his hands.” What else would he clap? “She shrugged her shoulders.” What else would she shrug?
  • Avoid the words Up and Down-unless they are really needed.
  • Usually delete the words ‘that’ and ‘had’. Read the sentence with them in it¬†and then without. Are they really necessary? You will be amazed how many times these words are used incorrectly.
  • Give the reader credit- Once you’ve established something, you don’t need to repeat it. Another one I’m guilty of ūüôā
  • Avoid telling what’s not happening. “He didn’t respond.” “She didn’t say anything.” If you don’t say things happened, we’ll assume they didn’t.
  • Avoid being an adjectival maniac.- Good writing is a thing of strong nouns and verbs, not adjectives. Use them sparingly.
  • Avoid Hedging verbs-…smiled lightly, almost laughed.
  • Avoid the word literally-when you mean figuratively. I was literally climbing the walls, My eyes literally fell out of my head–really?
  • Avoid on-the-nose-writing.-You don’t need to tell every action of every character in each scene, what they’re doing with each hand, etc.

I hope this information helps you to be more aware of the words you use. Choose your words wisely, they do matter.

I would like to end this blog by giving credit to Jerry Jenkins for the information I’ve shared. He has a great blog for writers¬†and provides not only invaluable information, but free tools to assist writers on their journey. If you haven’t visited his site, I would encourage you to do so ūüôā

-Jan R

 

 

Choose Your Words Wisely!

Description is Icing on the Cake

ccf_lindasfudgecakeI’m not very good at writing description and have a tendency to avoid it. This is reflected in critiques that I receive on my work. ‘You need to help me picture the setting in my mind. Where is your MC? It’s like looking at a blank canvas. There’s nothing there’.

You may be like me or you may be on the opposite side of the spectrum. I have critiqued some beautifully ridiculous descriptives. I’m sure many of you know what I’m talking about. Imagine your reader picking up a book at the bookstore and reading page after page of description on the gowns at a regency ball or the inner hull of a slave ship. They, like me, would probably put it down immediately.

Think of bad description as that one teacher you had in high school who went on and on putting the class to sleep. Good description is more like the teacher that got everybody involved in the action. She provided the information we needed but didn’t bog us down with a lot of fluff.

Avoid Huge Lumps of Description

In the past, Authors could get away with this but in today’s society, unless a reader was actively seeking out writers known for lyrical descriptive passages, they wouldn’t put up with it. That doesn’t mean there aren’t a few who get away with it, but it’s only because they are really good, and in all¬†reality, many of their fans are skimming those passages.

Make Description an Active Part of Your Story

You must find a way to¬†use description in combination with action¬†. Descriptions that come out of nowhere and do nothing but describe, are known as ‘narrative lumps’. A great example I read during this research is as follows:

Zara grabbed her mug and gulped it down, shivering when a few drops of the ale¬†trickled under her leather top. I didn’t have to say….The ale was cold or She wore a leather top. That information was provided in the action sequence.

Describe what your Characters Would Notice

Remember you are seeing the world through the eyes of your main character. If that character works and goes to the same office everyday, they aren’t going to stare at the craftsmanship and detail of the bookshelf housing a¬† wall of books in the office library. They see it everyday, but they are going to notice if a substantial¬†number of volumes were removed. They aren’t going to look around their office and go on and on about the lavishly decorated room-unless they just had it up fitted. They¬†will notice¬† a vase of red roses sitting on their desk.

Words, Words, Words

Use Strong, active, concrete words. The stronger the writing the better the description. Remember, nouns and verbs are your friends. Adjectives and adverbs can be your friends, depending on how you use them.

Avoid adjectivitis. I wish I could claim this word, but again I read it during my research. Adjectivitis is when you use to many adjectives to describe something. The rule of thumb is no more than two.

And you also want to limit your trips to the thesaurus. I know what it’s like to try to come up with different words, to avoid overuse. But when I have to stop reading a prose to look up the word the author has written, or I stumble over a¬† rarely used word, chances are, that author took one to many trips to the thesaurus.

Use all the senses

Most writers concentrate on sight and sound but you can really bring a scene to life by incorporating the other senses. Don’t forget about touch, smell and taste.

Fit the Description to the Type of Story

Fast paced action novels will have less descriptive as you are trying to get your main character from point A to point B in a hurry. Slower paced novels may take the opportunity to smell the roses, but be mindful of how long they are smelling them.

Avoid Excessive Name-dropping

It’s all right to use brand names in your story. But there are a few basic rules: Get the name right and do not portray the product in a disparaging light. Do not say your main character got food poisoning from the Golden Corral. (Go to the Publishing Law Center website for more information)

You don’t want to go overboard with brand names, but it is a¬† way to provide your reader with a good concrete description. When you say Chevy Silverado-people know instantly and can picture it in their minds.

Don’t Let Description Hang You Up During a First Draft

Remember you can always go back and add it later. When I started writing my novel, I had a great plot idea and my characters sketched out in my head. I put pencil to paper and wrote until completion.

As a matter of fact, that is were I am, and why I am writing this article. I have completed my first draft and am now beginning the process of icing my cake.

I hope this review on description helps you as much as it helped me.

-Jan R

Description is Icing on the Cake