Nano TwentyFive – Show And Tell

689296This is a bit advanced, however it serves dual purposes. Many people offer simple writing advice such as “write every day”, or the more common “read books”, or even the popular “join a local writing group.” And the thing is, all these tips aren’t wrong, but they’re absolutes – and I hate absolutes.

For example, Elmore Leonard’s (author of such great books like Get Shorty, and others I can’t remember due to copious amounts of pain killers I’m on at the moment,) “10 Rules of Writing” (which, in all seriousness is nothing more than a top-10 list someone printed into a 50-page hardcover binding…I found mine in a Dollar Tree and still felt ripped off,) the list starts with “Never start a book with the weather.”

What do I do? Of course! 

As General Poopypants walks down the steps to the old rusty Chevrolet S10 parked by the curb, he cannot help but notice the stinging icy rain not only disturbing his thoughts, but also making his footing difficult.

Because someone told me not to…Otherwise, I wouldn’t have even bothered with the stupid weather. It’s weather. I could have said “Yo dog, it’s slippery out here.” and been done…but noooo, someone had to print a book with absolutes in it.

However, a great author by name of Chuck Palahniuk wrote a blog about Thought Verbs that sticks with me when I write. Here’s the original post, and similar to how Chuck enjoy writing, it’s filled to brim with exciting information about writing. In case you don’t know who Mr. Palahniuk is, he’s the man who single-handedly wrote Fight Club while working at a gas station. He’s THAT awesome.

The main idea behind the article is to avoid using any “thought” verbs to prohibit yourself from sinking into the “telling” part of writing and exposition, instead of “showing” and painting a picture in the mind of the reader.

Taken from his page:

you can’t write:  Kenny wondered if Monica didn’t like him going out at night…”

Thinking is abstract.  Knowing and believing are intangible.  Your story will always be stronger if you just show the physical actions and details of your characters and allow your reader to do the thinking and knowing.  And loving and hating.

Instead, you’ll have to Un-pack that to something like:  “The mornings after Kenny had stayed out, beyond the last bus, until he’d had to bum a ride or pay for a cab and got home to find Monica faking sleep, faking because she never slept that quiet, those mornings, she’d only put her own cup of coffee in the microwave.  Never his.”

Instead of characters knowing anything, you must now present the details that allow the reader to know them.  Instead of a character wanting something, you must now describe the thing so that the reader wants it.

Instead of saying:  “Adam knew Gwen liked him.”

You’ll have to say:  “Between classes, Gwen was always leaned on his locker when he’d go to open it.  She’d roll her eyes and shove off with one foot, leaving a black-heel mark on the painted metal, but she also left the smell of her perfume.  The combination lock would still be warm from her ass.  And the next break, Gwen would be leaned there, again.”

In short, no more short-cuts.  Only specific sensory detail: action, smell, taste, sound, and feeling.”

I’ve changed the way I write and it’s made the prose much more interesting simply by omitting the thought words. You take the “Jessica likes Tommy” type sentence and turn it into an entire emotion, an entire feeling of how it is to be inside Jessica’s own head, and watch the magic happen on the screen in front of you.

And that’s what writing is about.

The reason I said this is dual purpose is because not only can you use this tip to add much-needed word count to finish Nano with a solid number, but when you go back and edit, you can look for those “Thinks, Knows, Understands, Realizes, Believes, Wants, Remembers, Imagines, Desires, and a hundred other words you love to use.” (Palahniuk, 2013) and expound on those words and phrases to breathe life into them, un-packing them into self-standing feelings and emotions to bring the characters to life instead of telling the reader what they’er thinking or doing. See the difference?

Remove the tell, SHOW the reader what the character is going through…that’s the magic.

-Chris

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