by Now Novel
One of the most common pieces of writing advice is that you should show instead of telling, but what does that really mean? By judiciously applying this piece of advice, your writing will be more vivid and engaging.
Every masterful writer has a unique voice: Think James Joyce’s avant garde stream of consciousness, Mark Twain’s just-folks dissection of the human condition, Ray Bradbury’s nostalgic haze of poetic reverie, Bill Bryson’s mirthful menageries of adjectives and adverbs.
Great writers, whether literary giants or popular favorites, are the soloists of the writing choir. Most people, however, do not have, or have not yet developed, voice (otherwise referred to as mood, style, or tone), and are as yet relegated to the chorus.
But it doesn’t take all that much to develop a distinctive writing voice — other than practice, practice, practice — and by paying attention to the components of voice, you might get a shot at a solo now and then after all.
Voice is all about the choices you make: the topic, the story structure, the phrasing, the vocabulary, the details. But there’s more to it than that; there’s also the passion for the subject matter, and the fortitude of opinion.
Think of the works you’ve read from the writers I named above, or your own favorites. A certain way to lose a debate is to charge any one of them with apathy about the stories they tell, or a lack of investment in their ruminations about the decadence of society, bigotry and hypocrisy, small-town idylls and ideals, or the head-shaking absurdity of the human race.
whoever-writes-monsters asked: Hey, I’ve been searching your gun tag and it’s been very helpful, but there’s still one thing that confuses me a little about guns in writing: when actually writing them, how much detail is necessary? Do you just generalise them as handguns, shotguns etc, add more details about the brand and the specs or include any physical description. And do you have any good examples of guns described in fiction writing? Thanks so much for the help
(General thoughts ahead. Perhaps not as organized as they could be. You have been warned.)
On to your question!
Well, the amount of detail you need will depend on the scene you’re writing. Sometimes it’s enough to just say something like:
Other times, you might want more detail:
In the first scene from the examples above, Lan is more concerned with the strangeness of the situation than she is preoccupied with the make and model of the gun the man at her door was holding. Even though the gun is the cause of her distress, it is as an object, taken as a whole. If he’d been holding a knife, Lan might have been just as flummoxed.
In the second scene, Clay clearly values his gun, so taking time to describe it as he brandishes it at the unknown threat makes perfect sense.
Is the gun important to the scene or the overall story in some way? If not, you probably don’t need an in-depth description. Is the gun important to the character? If not, a detailed description may also be unnecessary. Sometimes a gun is the sum of its sensory experience or its psychological ramifications or its physical moving parts. Sometimes it’s its brand or age or reputation. Sometimes it’s the wood inlay or the personalized engraving or the scuff marks along its barrel. And sometimes a gun is just a gun. It depends on what your story requires.
Bear in mind as well that the kinds of details a character might notice about a gun will change based on how often they’re around guns. A person with less experience might notice basic things like the weight of the gun or the smell of gunpowder and gun oil and metal. A person with a lot of experience might notice more nuanced details about a gun along with the more generalized details.
You will also see variations in description based on the circumstances of the scene (a gun in a war zone and a gun at a suburban kid’s birthday party give off completely different vibes, if you know what I mean) or the point of view character’s feelings about guns, weapons, violence, etc.
If you’re trying to move along the pacing, however, less description (or selective description, I should say) will help keep your story rolling along while more description will slow it down. That’s a decision you’ve got to make for yourself on a case by case basis.
As for published descriptions of guns, you can find that in lots of Thriller genre novels and military- or law enforcement-related books. Black Hawk Down, a Non-Fiction book about the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, has got some good gun descriptions, and I know Thriller authors like James Patterson, Lee Child, Ian Fleming, Tom Clancy, and Brad Thor describe guns—often in loving detail—in their books. You might also find descriptions of guns, both real and fantastical, in Science Fiction, Steampunk, True Crime, and Horror. I leave finding those descriptions to you (or our lovely followers, if they’d like to assist).
More on guns:
More on detail:
Thank you for your question, and I hope this helps!
Anonymous asked: /post/70515465859 can you please explain this more ? for those who is confused about this post ( which is me and someone else )
(More hard-boiled opinion-giving from C to follow.)
Okay, anon is talking about this picture of a quote we reblogged a while ago. Since Robert McKee, the author of this book, called Story, used close, character-oriented examples to illustrate his points rather than broad, plot-oriented examples, I will try (and fail) to do the same.
For example, we can assume that (most) characters are born. In a conversation, this fact can be omitted. We know.
We can also omit other, more applicable extraneous details. Consider this little segment:
I drove to CeeCee’s Italian Cuisine. I parked, got out of my car, and locked it. I put my keys into my right-hand jacket pocket and walked into the restaurant.
Under most circumstances, this is way too much detail for the readers. We can assume things like the character got out of the car. We can assume that the character stowed her keys somewhere on her person. We don’t need to be told that, either in exposition or through dialogue, unless it is somehow meaningful. Maybe she lost her keys and is retracing her steps. That would make the reader’s knowledge that the last place she had her keys was in her right-hand jacket pocket meaningful, maybe.
Regardless, we don’t need to know every step of the process unless it’s important—and I mean critical—to know. This decision of what is critical and what is not is primarily a matter of style. It can be honed through practice and experience. Eventually, knowing what to include and what to prune becomes second-nature for a writer.
(Prepare for a meandering reply.)
I tend to just tell eye color, so I sort of agree with you. If I need to get across that a character’s eyes are brown, let’s say, I might do something like this:
Dean’s brown eyes glared out at me, half-hidden by his unruly hair.
Brown eyes are supposed to be common, ordinary. I read that something like fifty percent of Americans have brown eyes. But Dean’s eyes are anything but ordinary. Statistics don’t apply to him.
Dean had brown eyes and high cheekbones, both framed by a mop of dark, unkempt hair.
"Hey, Brown Eyes, bring me another bar of soap," Renna said. "I want to clean up a bit before we go out."
Dean and I both have brown eyes.
I rarely interject eye color like Palahniuk did in his example (“Ann coughed and waved one hand past her face, clearing the cigarette smoke from her eyes, blue eyes, before she smiled…” [x]). To me, that feels cumbersome.
But, honestly, go with whatever works. Whatever gets the point across clearly. If the focus is not on Dean’s eyes, then there is no need to linger. If the focus is on Dean’s eyes, however, then I would spend more time on them.
The point, I guess, is that the actual amount of words you use to describe any relationship or character or place or whatever is the clearest indicator to your audience of that thing’s importance to the story. For me, word count equals focus. If I spend ten words describing a thing, I am showing my audience that that thing is less important (and therefore less worthy of their attention) than a thing I spend one hundred words describing. For example:
Dean’s eyes were the color of warm honey with chocolate shavings sprinkled in. When he looked at me, I melted.
Number of words spent describing eye color (first sentence): 13
Number or words spent describing the effect of those eyes (second sentence): 7
Dean’s eyes were honey brown. When he looked at me, I felt my bones go all wobbly, and I struggled to keep my cool even as a tingling warmth spread through my body from the pit of my stomach all the way to the tips of my fingers.
Number of words spent describing eye color (first sentence): 5
Number or words spent describing the effect of those eyes (second sentence): 43
In the first (terrible) example, my focus is clearly on eye color. I spend all that time describing the eyes. In the second (terrible) example, the focus is less on the color of the eyes and more on the effect the eyes have on my character. So, while we’re still talking about eyes, the focus shifts depending on how much physical space I allow each aspect of my description to take up on the page. You see what I mean?
In my example from the post before this one, writing “I know Renna very well” doesn’t put much focus on the character’s relationship to Renna. Spending time showing the reader that the character knows Renna by giving details about their relationship draws more attention to the fact that they have a relationship, that they know each other well, and it also gives concrete evidence of their relationship up to that point in the story. Details drive focus, which is evidenced through word count.
I hope I’m making sense.
Palahniuk’s example is more of an effort to show how you can tuck little details away inside of action-oriented sentences, sentences that do a better job of delivering character development to the reader than a whole sentence devoted to eye color might.
This is not to say that sentences devoted to eye color are wrong. It’s personal preference, and this is just Palahniuk’s opinion.
He’s trying to get you to un-pack. He’s trying to help you understand how to deliver information effectively to the reader, and I’m over here ruining all of his hard work by making things more complicated.
Hopefully this has answered your question (?), and thank you for asking it!
Your readers are going to want to know about your character’s past and how it has shaped the way they are in your novel. You’re most likely going to have to explain some sort of past event that’s important to the current narrative. I’m not saying that your character’s past defines them, but there will be events that lead them up to the action in your novel or explain something that’s going to happen to them in the future. As a writer, you need to learn how to integrate your character’s memories or past stories into your novels.
Bringing up your character’s memories is not necessarily the same as writing flashbacks. Your character might speak of something from their past that has had a significant impact on where your character ends up. If your character brings up something in conversation with someone else, it’s best not to reveal everything all at once. You don’t want your character to say something like—
“Yeah, well, he’s probably after me because I accidently hit his girlfriend with a car when I was seventeen. That might be why he’s after me. Oh yeah, he warned me he was going to come after me about a year ago. I guess I forgot. That could explain why he’s so angry with me.”
Not only is this dialogue a no-no, but you’re giving way too much information at once that could have been explained earlier. This is not a good way to reveal memories and it will feel like a last minute edition to your story. Your readers will think you were stuck and came up with someone the spot. While it’s not a horrible idea to come up with something off the top of your head, you can’t do it when it’s an integral part of the story.
Finding a good way to weave your character’s backstory in your novel is of upmost importance. Take your time to make it feel natural and have information revealed over time, instead of all at once. For example, the paragraph up top could be fixed if the character had genuinely forgotten about the incident with the antagonist’s girlfriend. Maybe he has memory loss from the accident or there was something that had made him forget (he blocked it out, went to therapy, etc.) Find a way to make your story compelling and keep your readers interested in why something is happening.
Showing, instead of telling, is an important part of keeping a story fresh and interesting. It helps make the story you’re telling jump off the page and the setting and characters more believable. So what is “show, don’t tell” and why is it important?
· Description is an important element when setting up a character, place, or situation. Rather than stating that a place is “serene” (Telling), show the reader. By showing you are describing the setting with language that will create a picture in the reader’s head. “Serene” doesn’t help the reader visualize the setting you are trying to create. A sentence like, “The snow floated in over the wall, light and carefree as it brushed by Sara’s red cheeks.” gives a much stronger visual image. (Sorry for the bad sentence! I hope you get my meaning.)
· The “show don’t tell” rule can be applied to more than description. It can also be used to help develop a character. For instance, if a character is angry or sad, don’t describe (tell) their emotional state as “angry” or “sad”. Show the reader what your character does when he or she is angry or sad. Do they slam their fist on something? Silently seethe? Do they sob loudly so everyone can hear them? Or do the tears fall, as if they don’t even notice? Showing these sorts of emotions not only makes reading more interesting for your audience, but also gives you the opportunity to fully develop your character.
· “Show don’t Tell” can also be used to establish conflict. Conflict is a very delicate thing to put in your writing. It should be done carefully and using the “show don’t tell” rule can help keep your conflict from being overdone. If two characters aren’t getting along, you’ll want to show us their interactions. Think about how the characters normally act with people they like and then think about how they would act around someone they don’t like. (Don’t forget to factor in why these two characters don’t like each other! This also affects how they act around one another.) Conflict doesn’t just mean two characters being angry with one another; it can also be a character upset with a situation. Using “show don’t tell” will help keep the conflict subtle and complex.
Showing instead of telling is a crucial part of building a tangible world for your reader. Use it to strengthen your writing and help your characters’ voices shout from the pages.
Is your description dull? Does your figurative language fall flat? Are you forever stating the obvious in the quest to depict your world? Never fear! Here are some resources on effective description to help you put the punch back in your writing.
- Dr. K & Dr. E
Describing characters can be a little bit of a ‘telling’ minefield. While you are almost certainly going to end up with some ‘told’ description of a character, try to keep it to a minimum, ‘showing’ things about their appearance through action and dialogue instead.
Instead of ‘She was short’, use ‘She clambered onto the chair, her legs dangling several inches above the floor’
Instead of ‘He was tall’, use ‘He ducked under the doorway’
Instead of ‘He was a smoker’, use ‘He shook my hand, his yellowed fingers leaving the scent of cigarettes on mine’
Instead of ‘She had bad teeth’, use ‘She laughed, instinctively covering her open mouth with her hand’
So you see how a lot of information can be shown to your readers rather than simply told to them.
And remember that your readers have imaginations, imaginations that they enjoy using. Let them fill in the gaps - don’t give them a detailed head to toe description laying out mole and strand of hair.