Today is the 2nd installment in Jeanne Leach’s Show Me; Don’t Tell Me series.
Read Part 1 here.
Cause and Make
There are times when TELLING is more obscure than merely looking for an “ly” adverb. Using ‘cause’ or ‘make’ or any form of these words can also render something as TELLING. The following are considered TELLING:
- What he just said to her caused her heart to freeze up.
- She jumped into the water, making her body cool off from the intense heat.
You will see sentences like these in just about every work of fiction, and since they are obscure, many editors never catch them. Yet, by TELLING us that something made or caused a certain reaction, the author is cheating the reader out of a more vivid description of what’s actually taking place. A rewrite of the above sentences might look something like this:
- Her breathing became shallow, and her heart beat faster. How could he have said that to her?
- She jumped into the pool. The cool water engulfed her body with a welcome relief from the intense heat of the day.
We are shown more depth of what’s happening with these characters by eliminating “cause” and “make.”
Lack of Visualization
There are numerous ways for writing to be telling without using some of the telling signs mentioned so far in this series. Ask yourself whether a particular sentence or passage has a visual connotation. Can you as a reader ‘see’ the action in a vivid way?
Consider the following sentences:
- He took a walk.
- She smiled at him.
- He sat down.
- She cooked supper.
For the most part, these aren’t bad sentences, but they TELL us what’s going on, rather than SHOW us. In a good story, there would be so much more going on behind the scenes, and these sentences wouldn’t be good enough to evoke emotions and reader involvement—the desired results for which authors strive.
These could become SHOWING by putting forth a bit more effort.
- He walked around the block to cool off.
- She smiled at him, hoping he would find it in himself to forgive her.
- He plopped down on the sofa, not caring what his mother thought about his torn pants.
- She pulled her favorite stock pot out of the cupboard and soon had it filled with a savory stew of fresh, chopped vegetables, and the venison John had brought home from his hunting trip.
After reading the second versions of these sentences, you can see how sometimes simple is not better. The improved versions give the reader a better sense of what’s going on with each character at that moment in time.
Ask yourself, “Is this visual, or does it fall short of SHOWING me what’s really going on?” If it isn’t creating a clear view of the action, it is most likely TELLING and needs to be enhanced with a more visual scene.
Next week we’ll tackle emotions and feelings. Yes, there is a difference when it comes to writing fiction!