Tag Archives: writing advice

The Path to Show and Not Tell

I’ve been seeing some confusion about show and not tell amongst new writers. Again. I’m not a guru but here is how I learned it.

Tell = To summarize dramatic events. To gloss over  In affect, after you read it you may think, “Wow I wish I could have experienced that.”

Show = Imagine a play/script but with all the literary workings of the six senses. Or not, depending on your style. Most importantly you are leading the reader by the nose through an event, a key dramatic moment, emotional beats that will make them move forward through the story.

But what are beats?

Beats are verbs with to in front of them.

Example: To confuse, to comfort, to humiliate.

Beats make your story. Your character has one beat and they use many beats to fulfill the main one.

Of course your antagonists have beats. And when they conflict with your protagonists they will cause….CONFLICT.

The experienced writer will have said beats buried in their subconscious or know them off the top of their head. But when stuck will think about them in verbs. New writers should always be thinking about them. It’s their path to show and not tell.

Now you don’t have to show all the time. Nothing wrong with a little telling. It just depends where you do it. Maybe you want to speed the story up. Maybe you don’t want to repeat a show you just did before. Or tell a past moment that happened before the story. I don’t know. Use discretion. Use your style. Use your instinct. But if it’s a heavy moment, something you’re scared to write, something that reveals a part of yourself, then you should definitely show it.

I’m not a writing guru but…

subs: 2

reject: o

Damn, wish I had more rejections.

Revised The Creative down to 5,943 words. Feels solid. The core, the meaning, of the story finally screamed out to me. In a few weeks I’ll give it a final run through and see if I still feel the same. Tomorrow I’ll start a new story to distract myself.

I turned 43 this week. Although I feel tired and achy, I don’t feel old. I don’t know why. Probably because I’m not. My life is content at this point. The life my wife and I built has been holding steady and there are many lights ahead of us. And if those lights should keep going further back, that’s still okay. Like I said, I feel content.

I have been writing since I was 16, 15? Before then I had been obsessed with story. I wrote scripts, novels, short stories, and made movies. I’ve learned many things. I continue to do so. Especially in this self-publishing game. I won’t get into why I do it. My reasons are my own. Strictly political. I also sell short stories to magazines and zines, etc. So mull over that.

During my time self publishing (I think I put out my first book in 2011), I have learned a crap load of stuff. I waded through the gurus and the marketers and information. It can be depressing and overwhelming for a newbie. I am not a guru. This will not be a blog for such information. There are others out there who  do it better. But I will drop a tip here and there. Like now:

Self Pub Tip

Sometimes I see on Twitter or Facebook the SP writers tooting their own horn about how they are “fulltime writers” and “professionals” and how “they are living the dream” and they have these blogs reveling on what it’s like being a writer. So I check out their books and read their samples on Amazon and SMACK!

They can’t write. What do I mean?

  • They can’t form a sentence.
  • They misuse punctuation or create new punctuation.
  • They’re unaware of scene construction, how to pull a reader in, or how to create an original or interesting character.
  • Their work is redundant.

 

They can’t form a sentence

I’m  aware that something happens to our brains when we turn into an adult. We regress into apes and write as we speak instead of writing correctly. Writing and speaking are two different things, two languages. If you are picking up writing late in your adulthood and you forgot your basics, I suggest you study a writing manual. I preferred The Elements of Style. It’s tiny, clear, and concise.

 

They misuse punctuation or create new punctuation.

I spot this one a lot.

Example: “My dog is in the hospital.” He said.

Huh? Shouldn’t it be: “My dog is in the hospital,” he said.

If I find the son of a bitch whose been teaching writers this I’m going to pull his scrotum over his head. It is everywhere.

 
They’re unaware of scene construction, how to pull a reader in, or how to create an original or interesting character.

 

There are millions of books, videos, and classes out there that will teach you how to write a story. A majority will teach you how to write a bestseller. They will give you the secrets on how to pull a reader’s heart strings or expectations and thrill them to no end. That’s great. Pick ONE of those books up and keep it as a reference. Something to inspire or to look back on.

You ever read clickbait on the world’s greatest writers tips for writers? One of those tips are always READ. Wanna know why? Reading is how you learn to write structure, character, and setting. Reading all kinds of genres and stories. It’s the best kind of education and it’s free to cheap. How do you think the pulp writers learned to write back in the 30s-50s? Hell, how do you think Shakespear or the guys who wrote the Bobe learned? They didn’t have writing gurus. They READ the writers before them and learned.

Now this is the important part. YOU NEED TO HAVE THE ABILITY TO LEARN. You have to be aware of what you are reading. You have to see what the author is doing and how they are doing it. Once you achieve this then you can add these tricks to your tool box and use them for your own work. Then you can mix and match these tools with your voice to develop a style as you write more and more.

A writer needs the ability to learn or they will never be a good writer. The only one that can teach you to write is yourself. You have to do the work.

 

Their work is redundant.

There are many reasons why a publisher would not be interested in your book. Primarily because they don’t think it’s marketable. A publisher is a business. They are responsible to their shareholders and keeping their doors open. Agents need to make a living and do not want to take on books that are not marketable.

What is marketable? I don’t know.

But now with the digital revolution one can publish the unmarketable and give those books a chance. A chunk of those unmarketable books seem to be books that tell the same stories that are already marketable bestsellers. Another form of the popular military sci-fi or the young adult romance. Some of these with their expensive covers stand out and make the bestsellers for a moment until the writer can make another carbon copy to chase another fad or just fade away. But there are many that gather dust by authors tooting their horn and wade in the points I mentioned above.

Although I feel the urge to condemn writers for resisting originality in independent publishing, I will say this instead. If you feel being redundant is your calling please be professional. In my experience readers can be forgiving with minor typos but not with shoddy storytelling.

So for now, the last episode of Stainboy: