I’m writing this post as part of Peevish Penman’s “My Best Advice to New Writers” Blogfest.
My best advice is something I’ve talked about on this blog a couple of times before, but it truly is my writing mantra: “Show, Don’t Tell”.
Some of this advice I’ve covered before, but there are also a few new little gems I’ve recently discovered.
Use All Five Senses
Don’t just tell the reader what the characters are experiencing, have them feel and experience through your character. Use sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. For example, don’t tell the reader your character is cold, show the reader how your character experiences the cold, “Lucy pulled her coat tightly around her body against the icy wind. The snow crunched under her feet.” Something I like to do when writing is close my eyes and imagine myself in my character’s place, focusing on each of my senses. I’ve even gone as far as putting my hand in a bowl of ice water to describe how my character felt as she plunged into an ice cold stream.
This is something I’ve recently been focusing on in my edits for my novel. Find the places where you’ve used the verb ‘was’ (or ‘is’ if writing in present tense, or ‘am’ if writing first person present tense), then reword the sentence without using ‘was’. This forces you to not only use stronger verbs, but turns a ‘telling’ sentence into one that shows. Take this sentence, “I was tired.” Let’s try to eliminate was and turn it into a ‘showing’ sentence, “My eyes felt heavy, I could barely keep them open.” The sentence conveys the same information, but shows the character is tired, rather than tells.
Interweave Description into the Story
Telling your reader your character is short or the building is old is boring and assumes the reader is not smart enough to figure out things from more subtle descriptions. Interweave details into the story to create a picture that allows the reader to form their own assumptions and at the same time create a stronger story. Take the above examples, the character is short and the building is old. Let’s interweave those details into a few sentences without using those adjectives. “Bill and Peter had to duck low as they passed under the arch, but Jimmy walked under it comfortably, his head barely grazing the top. The boys looked up at the building before them; its brickwork crumbled in places and ivy wound its way up the wall.”
Take Out Your Highlighter
As I proofread my drafts I use a blue highlighter whenever I come across any parts I think are telling, then when I do my edits I rework those parts to show instead of tell.
Just a few other pieces of advice to end this post:
- Keep writing, every word makes you a better writer.
- Listen to those who offer critique on your work, your writing can always get better.
- Always keep a pen and paper handy for when sudden inspiration strikes.
To check out some of the other great advice being offered during Peevish Penman’s blogfest, check out the links on this page: “My Best Advice to New Authors” Blogfest
13 thoughts on “My Best Advice for Other Aspiring Writers”
I’m beginning an intense revision session, so this post was a perfect primer/review. Thanks!
Sound is my achilles heel – I always forget that there’s a soundtrack to life, and have to go back and add it in. Perhaps it’s because I prefer to write in silence. 🙂
Sound advice, all…thanks for sharing.
I was reading this post and was thinking how ineffective “was” was in my own writing or at least it was. Though it’s strenuous to dissect our grammar, the result can be magical.
Great advice! Thanks for the post.
This is all great advice, especially as I’m almost ready to work on the third draft of my novel. Eliminating “was” and “is” is especially helpful. Great point about using details to show things instead of spelling it all out for your readers. Awesome post, thanks for sharing!
I thought your story about how you put your hand in ice to describe the cold water was a wonderful example. It makes descriptions come to life, for you and your writer! Great post.
All excellent advice. This would be a start of a super list to keep on the wall next to where you write.
I think there need to be a healthy balance between show and tell. Too much show is just as bad as too much tell.
Leaving out “was” is also equally bad or might be.
The advice of using all five senses is excellent, though.
But all this, like everything depends on how you’re writing in general, in what way we use the various tools, both new and old.
“It depends” I usually say when someone asks me if this or that is right.
Many people too hung up on editing usually have a long list of “not to do”. Do not use too many adverbs. Do not repeat words.
And so on.
What’s right in one situation may be totally wrong in another, and the other way around. There are or shouldn’t be any absolutes, at least as few as possible.
Thank-you for the lovely comments everyone, I’m glad I could have the opportunity to share some advice I feel passionate about through this blogfest.
Amos, I agree sometimes it is necessary to tell, and sometimes it can be easy to go overboard with showing, that’s why it’s also important to make sure the plot is being propelled forward and not get too caught up in flowery descriptions. In general though, showing allows the reader to become more involved in the story.
‘Was’ can also be used effectively in some cases too, but sometimes there are much more effective words out there. That’s why editing is great, it allows us to look more deeply into word choices and see where the text can be improved. Of course I’m not saying to eliminate ‘was’ completely, just examine it and reconsider if something more effective can be used in its place.
You are right, there are a lot of ‘rules’ out there on what is right or wrong, but it really does depend on what is being written and choosing what is most effective for that piece. Thanks for sharing your insight.
I fully agree with the eradication of ‘was’ – I also like to remove ‘had’ as well. I get very cross with sentences like “I was walking”. What’s wrong with showing us how you walked? Did you stride, run, creep? Really tightens up the writing.
Also agree on the senses thing. My favourite sense to write is that of smell. It accesses such an ancient part of memory! (And the universe was kind enough to give us such lovely smells as freshly baked bread, chocolate, and cinnamon)