Tag Archive - Show don’t tell

Show, Don’t Tell: What to Show and What to Tell

Editor Linda Clare continues our examination of Fatal Flaw: # 6 Show, Don’t Tell. Writers often succumb to this fatal flaw of fiction writing, explaining and telling and summarizing instead of showing action as it’s happening. (If you missed the first post, be sure to read it here.)

In a fictional story, readers imagine that the characters have real lives, just as they themselves do. But the writer who tries to act out a character’s every moment will find readers snoozing sooner rather than later. We’re often told to “show, don’t tell.” So when is showing actually the less effective choice?

The Usual Routine

Most of the time, a character’s routine is not crucial to the story. Habits such as hearing the alarm clock, shuffling into the kitchen for that first hot mug of coffee or tea, getting dressed, or other mundane activities may be commonplace for all of us but rarely make for exciting prose. Readers will assume your character isn’t running around naked or heading to work without brushing her teeth—unless being unclothed or unbrushed is important to the story. Continue Reading…

How Writers Can Be Storyshowers instead of Storytellers

Editor Rachel Starr Thomson dives into our new monthly fatal flaw: # 6 Telling, instead of Showing, Story . Writers often succumb to this fatal flaw of fiction writing, explaining and telling and summarizing instead of showing action as it’s happening. Topics this week cover three ways writers can RUE (resist the urge to explain) and hook readers will dynamic scenes.

Once upon a time, we were storytellers.

We wrote like Homer:

The men flew to arms;

all the gates were opened, and the people thronged through them,

horse and foot, with the tramp as of a great multitude.

Or like whoever wrote Beowulf:

Hwæt! w? G?r-Dena in ge?r-dagum

þ?od-cyninga þrym gefr?non . . .

Okay, never mind about Beowful. The point is, stories were told, and while that meant some especially poetic details were thrown in, for the most part stories got summarized, with huge swaths of action happening from a long-distance view, like in the Iliad above. Continue Reading…

How to Get Readers into Your Story—and How to Keep Them There

We’re continuing our look this month at Fatal Flaw # 2—Nothin’ Happenin’. Last week editor Rachel Starr Thomson explained the pitfalls of front-loading scenes with too much narrative, and this week editor Linda Clare continues with the discussion, helping writers see what can be done to get readers quickly into your story, and how to keep them there.

In the opening of many novels, we see a character alone on stage, riding a train, plane, car, or donkey. Many times this character is gazing out a window (unless, of course, she’s riding the donkey), thinking. Some call this “driving to the story.”

Many times this type of “sittin’ and thinkin” scene is so loaded with backstory that readers don’t know when the real story begins—or worse, they don’t care. Let’s look at some ways to fix this kind of Writing that comes across as “nothin’ happenin’.”

The Wilson Principle

To hook your readers and get the story going quickly, your POV character needs someone to interact with. If you write only her thoughts, she has no one who will disagree with her. There is no variety or stimulating action. Just the character sitting, thinking. While an occasional scene opening this way can have a place in a novel, writers risk losing readers’ interest by taking this approach. Continue Reading…

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