Show, not tell. That’s a very old writing tip that a lot of new fiction writers, myself included, fail to implement when starting out with their journey to writing stories and novels.
I learned, however, that it’s not because we don’t know how to write. Rather, it’s because we were trained to write this way in school, most notably with nonfiction. Well, in nonfiction, telling is the way to go.
In fiction, it’s another story.
If you want to raise your story quality by a bar or two, it is very important that you be able to grasp the concept of how to show action, instead of telling.
I am not an expert in writing, and I do consider myself still a student in this field. However, I do have the honor to have been invited to join in a monthly event for writing tools and resource for writers – #AuthorToolboxBlogHop, organized by Raimey Gallant. I will be, therefore, covering basics in writing fiction, which I hope will help fellow beginners like me who are aiming to be better writers.
Here are three ways to show action in writing fiction that I have learned to improve my writing ability.
1. Place your reader in the scene in real time.
When writing a scene, pen it in a way where your reader would feel that they are within the scene, watching as events unfold.
A narration may give your readers the information, but that would not only overload them with information, it would also be boring. Let your reader feel that he is witnessing the event in real time.
Your main character got stabbed.
Sure, that would be a boring read. How about this: He fell to his knees and saw a knife sticking out of his abdomen. He looked at his best friend with wide eyes. He grimaced as the color drained from his face. Is it more interesting now?
2. Try the “Camera Test”
In the Writer’s Digest, I read an article that introduced the Camera Test. To make sure that what you are writing is indeed showing, and not telling, ask yourself if it is visible on camera? If not, then it is telling, and you probably would need to re-write that bit. There are some exceptions to the camera test, such as descriptions that are needed to illustrate the scene, or internal monologue needed to progress the story forward.
3. Make your reader infer the emotion.
Emotions are tricky in writing. Telling your readers that your character is “sad” is going to go poorly. It would instead be better to describe to your readers just how sad your character is. He could be sitting in a corner, staring at nothing as he munched on a potato chip for thirty minutes, locked in his room for days. Was that sad enough? Or perhaps it was too sad?
While showing actions and events is good for storytelling, too much information may be bad for your writing. It would be good to trim down details, too. Despite the fact that you want to show how wonderful the room is, you do not need to let your character wander in each square inch of the place so you can show it. If it’s not needed, omit it. If it will not progress the story, skip it.
Sometimes, telling is acceptable. There are times when, to quickly progress the story, you can simply “tell” what happened, so you can move on. You do not need to show mundane things. Telling it would be acceptable. Once you fulfill the purpose of your “telling”, you can return to “showing” once more.
Writing is easy, but good and creative writing requires skill and practice.
I admit, I do find myself struggling with showing, and sometimes find some telling signs in my writing. Often, I am unaware that I have been making that mistake, as I was under the impression that what I was doing was right, when I was not all along.
How can we improve our “showing” skills? Read more, write more.
Have you ever struggled with how to describe a scene?
- Act it out in front of the mirror. Perhaps you could see something that might help.
- Read other’s works. See how they illustrated the scene.
- Or lastly, ask for help. Getting ideas from others with more experience is not a bad thing as we progress our writing craft and skill.
I hope that this has been helpful, and that you learned something from my post.
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