Monday, June 29, 2015

Am I Showing or Telling?

Sometimes it can be really hard to tell.

We've all heard it so many times. "Show don't tell!" Yes. Yes, you think, I know. I get it. But maybe we get it in the same way my eighteen month old nephew "gets" eating with a spoon. Do we all secretly have mashed carrots on our faces and nobody's telling us? Wait where was I going with this? Oh yeah. Are we showing or telling, and how do we know?

Beware of "was." Lately I'm super, super grateful for amazing beta readers who help my manuscript become so much better by making it more active. "Was" is a great clue that you're telling rather than showing. If someone is "wassing" they're not doing anything. (Is wassing a word? Can we make it one?)

Avoid passive voice. I think sometimes bloggers throw things out there and even though as readers it sounds good and we try our best to follow it, we're not exactly sure what they're really talking about. Maybe that's just me. I've always found actual examples of passive voice to be super helpful, and if you just do a quick google search you'll find plenty. (Like this one, that also includes how to edit to active voice.) Essentially, just remember linking verbs. IS, AM, ARE, WAS, WERE, BE, BEING, BEEN. If you're using one of them in your sentence, especially was, were, or been, it's probably too passive. Change it to a simple "Subject Verbed" and stay safe.

Use active verbs. Good writing--good active voice--is more than just getting your characters to move on the page. It's about really seeing them. I'm getting an awesome lesson in this from my beta readers, and its been super helpful. Don't settle for okay verbs. Really see what your character is doing. Then your reader will too.

This advice is as much for me as anyone, but since it's what I'm thinking on lately I thought I'd write it out.

Write on!

Sarah Allen


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  1. Replies
    1. Oh good! Beta readers have been invaluable in helping me with these things.

  2. I must admit, I am careful with the "show don't tell" thing. Sometimes, yes, but other times - well, my least favourite example is "she ran a hand through her long golden hair" or "She looked in the mirror and saw a tall, beautiful girl with long golden hair." It irks me. And it isn't only amateurs who do it. One of my favourite writers does it regularly. What's wrong with a simple sentence that says,"She had long golden hair" and then get on with the rest of the story? ;-)

    1. I completely agree. I think as a general thing, show don't tell is good advice, but there are absolutely times when its necessary to just tell.

  3. Show don't tell kills me! I'm pretty sure I have metaphorical mashed carrots all over my face. If like, The Magical Council of Readers and Writers could make a list (or actually exist. . . that would be a helpful council) then my life would be so much easier. But your tips are just as helpful, too! Active verbs are your friend.

    1. I know your pain! But I already know you're a great writer, and together we shall conquer passive voice and linking verbs!


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