Monday, May 5, 2014

Jumping the Gun

The race is about to begin. The competitors' bodies feel taut and ready for action. Then one runner takes off a second before the gun goes off. A collective groan comes from onlookers as the entire field is called back to the starting line.

That looks like a great paragraph, doesn't it? Yet, it tells about the action rather than shows it.

The runners take their position at the starting line, muscles taut and ready for action. A second before the gun goes off, one launches forward. A collective groan erupts from onlookers, and officials call the entire field back to the starting line.

Showing versus telling gives many writers a headache. How do we avoid the pitfalls associated with feeding readers information?

1.  Use strong verbs. In the first paragraph, we're told, "The race is about to begin." The third paragraph starts off with, "The runners take their position at the starting line, muscles taut and ready for action."

In the first example, the passive construction tells the reader what is about to happen. The second example gives an action, using the active verb, "take."

2.  Use deep POV.  Don't throw rocks at me. I'll define my terms. In a nutshell, deep POV is short for deep point of view. When you're speaking from one character's perspective, you not only see what they're seeing, but also feeling what they're feeling.

Example 1: The competitors' bodies feel taut and ready for action.

Re-write:    The runners take their position at the starting line, muscles taut and ready for action.

In the re-write, you can see those muscles tensed. Words like, feel, felt, emotion names, all tell the reader something about the character. Describing their reactions - muscles taut, a raised eyebrow, a flick of the hand eliminate the telling and show the reader what the character is experiencing.

3.  Observe real-life situations. We've all seen someone's eyes flash, twinkle, tear up, narrow, close, grow wide, etc. Be aware of how people communicate in non-verbal ways. It will sharpen your writing skills.

Resources:  Rivet Your Readers With Deep Point of View by Jill Elizabeth Nelson
                   The Emotion Thesaurus by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi

Writers:  Non-fiction writers - have you used this fiction technique in your writing?
               Fiction writers - do you have a favorite writing resource? Please share.

Readers: Who are some of your favorite authors, and why does their work grab you?

Photo Credit:  dimetri c


Karen Lange said...

Excellent advice, Susan! You know your stuff. :) Happy Monday!

Jeanette Levellie said...

Great examples of showing vs. telling. I love how you SHOWED us how to write better!

And yes, I try to use this technique with my nf writing.

Marja Verschoor-Meijers said...

I find this very complicated, and to be honest, sometimes I just do not see the difference :) Sometimes I wonder who made that rule (show, don't tell)...
Telling stories is a thousand year old technique, right?
Anyway, it is still excellent advice you give on this technique, thank you Susan!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the advice, Susan. Like many other writers, I struggle with showing versus telling. I have to agree with Marja that sometimes I just don't see that big a difference. I know I have much to learn yet in my craft, though, so I appreciate all your advice. :-)

Enjoy your weekend!


Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Karen -

Aww, thanks! I appreciate you stopping by and commenting.

Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Jen, use them to great advantage!

Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Marja -

It sounded complicated to me in the beginning as well, but once you get the idea, it's not that hard.

Just think of it as looking through the eyes of your point of view character. They can't say what's going on in another character's head or what they're feeling. They can only communicate their own observations.

I hope that helps.

Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Janette -

Thanks for popping by and commenting!

Think about the books you read. When someone is telling you about something, you're not seeing the action. You're an observer. This keeps you from experiencing what the character feels, the conflicts, and the danger.

Susan :)

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Marja -

My apologies. I dealt with point of view in my comment above.

Storytelling is as old as the human race, but some people do it better than others. A good storyteller makes you part of the action, draws you in, until you forget he/she is speaking.

Susan :)

Connie Cameron said...

Not only is your advice a great reminder for us nf writers, Susan,but I also learned from your informative responses to other comments. Thank you for taking time our of your busy schedule to shed light on POV and on show vs.tell, to help others.