Tips For Beginners, Reminders for Pros
By Carole Avila
“Show, don’t tell” is not a hard concept to grasp when first entering the writing arena, but it is a hard one to get right. Here are five things that will help you become a better “show-er.”
1. Your readers are not mind-readers, so use your other 5 senses to show them your thoughts.
I find one of the most challenging parts of writing is remembering that a reading audience does not see inside my head. To say, “I love my grandma’s garden” obviously isn’t enough. “My senses exploded in my grandma’s backyard where tiny gray pebbles ground underfoot on a winding path. The romantic aroma of her carefully tended white roses soothed me, and velvety sweet apricots were plucked off an ancient looking tree.” All these things I experienced, but I must remember that my audience doesn’t see it until I describe it.
2. It’s not necessary to give importance to little physical motions.
Instead of writing “he took a step toward a door” describe why the character went to the door. Share what they heard or felt, are afraid of seeing, or are hoping to find behind the door. Instead of, “I heard a sound from the other room and reached for the door knob. Turning it slowly and pushing the door open, I found that no one was there” can be conveyed the same as, “I heard a subtle whisper behind the closed door and pushed it open, but no one was there.” “Reaching for,” “looking at,” “stepping towards,” and “turning to” may be signs that you might be describing unimportant movements.
3. Less really is more.
I think the statement “less is more” is almost always true at the early stages of a writing career. More is writing that “My middle and index fingers stood rigid and vertical, spread apart and pointing to the ceiling as I bid a farewell to my boyfriend” instead of simply stating, “I made a V with my fingers rather than wave good-bye to Lenny.” More is, “His mouth curved upward at the corners, and I noticed the highlighted creases in his cheeks” and less is, “He smiled, and I wanted to swim in his dimples.”
4. There’s nothing like an original metaphor or simile.
A metaphor is a broad comparison and similes are more specific comparisons, using “like” or “as.” “Like” usually refers to a single object. Metaphor and similes help a reader to envision your work, giving stronger images. Too many will sound awkward and/or sound cliché, but just enough will improve the reading experience. Allow yourself the time to brainstorm an original comparison. Allow the time it takes to develop good metaphors and similes, and keep them brief and the point.
5. Take your time to brainstorm and imagine in order to write a better story.
Just the right amount of descriptive elements can make an image come to life. “The fire engine rushed down the road,” get’s to the point, but sit with it. Imagine the engine roaring like a dinosaur, as if it was a trash truck that either fascinates or scares little kids. Perhaps it sounds like a broken siren, like a garbled howl of a person with laryngitis if they were bitten on the arm. Instead of simply rushing down the road, the massive red beast can hit every pothole, as if the gashes tearing up the pavement are metal eating devices. “Imagination brings your words to life.”
To sum it up, improve your writing style by remembering these basics:
1. Take the time to envision and describe exactly what all your senses are experiencing in the image inside your head.
2. Don’t bother describing what doesn’t matter, especially small movements that don’t move the story forward.
3. Is there another way to say it succinctly? “Less is more.”
4. Develop original metaphors and similes.
5. Give yourself more time to think through an idea in order to create better word choices leading to a better product.
Carole Avila loves to write a good story and to experience a good book with a chai latte.