any tips on showing-not-telling and how not to rush while writing?

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Horserider92

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I have an issue of telling when I write. I've been trying to practice, but it's hard for me. I also tend rush the story too fast.

If you want an example of my writing here (sorry I didn't edit it):
http://docs.google.com/View?id=dpfn8rd_28hq3bxgd5


So any tips to showing-not-telling and how not to rush?


Thanks very much for answering.
 

PoppysInARow

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I wrote a blog post on one method here on S V. T if you want to take a look.

/endpimp

Another way to avoid rushing is to take a deep breath, and just work your way through the scene. Take a break if you need to. Find out why you're rushing, and the solution to the problem might be easier to find.

Are you rushing because you don't like this scene? Why don't you like it? What can you change about this scene that you'll enjoy it more?

If I rush, it tends to mean I'm getting bored, so I try to throw some action in there. :D
 

Jamesaritchie

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Not rushing is one reason I write in longhand. It gives me a chance to think before writing, and I can only write so fast and remain legible.
 

leahzero

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I wrote a blog post on one method here on S V. T if you want to take a look.

Good post.

Keep in mind that Show, Don't Tell applies to everything, not just states of emotion. Use the same principle Katie talks about when it comes to exposition, description, etc. Don't tell us what's going on or what things look like: show characters interacting with each other and the world to learn these things.

Regarding rushing, I can see what you mean by the writing sample you provided. The action lurches forward after a cursory description. Is this what your main character would really think upon arriving at a supposedly new area that he is certain he's been to before? Wouldn't he be going over things in his mind that make him sure he's been there, like the color of the sand, the contour of the shoreline, the smell in the air, the sounds?

Look around the scene you've built in your head. Show your character interacting with it. Use all of your senses. Bring us there.

As for the writing sample you provided:

I was so sure that I’ve been at this beach before, but how could I have been? It was my first week living in Florida. I asked my parents if we’ve ever been to this beach and they reassured me so many times that I’ve never been to Florida before. Just as the soul of my foot touched the sand for the first time, my vision went black. I was traveling back. I could see the years flash before my eyes. Finally, the blackness stopped and I was on the beach again. I peered down at my body and saw the black skin that wasn’t mine. I could see the three boys running toward the ocean, but only one jumped in the water. I ran toward the two that were waiting for me and nodded at them. Then, I jumped in the ocean. I felt the cold rush as my body got used to the temperature of the water. And then I took a breath underwater. The water surged through my body as if I were a fish. I swam further until I met up with him.

Red text = errors. Your verb tense is confused for the first few sentences, which makes reading difficult. Also, the bottom of the foot is the "sole."

Besides the errors, the verbs in the beginning of this paragraph are past-perfect tense ("I had been" etc.), which is an extremely passive tone and a bad way to start. Rewriting these sentences in regular past tense, like the rest of the sample, will make them more active and engaging. Something like (just using some generic descriptions to show how this could work):
When I saw the white sand and the ridge of the shoreline, I knew I'd been at this beach before. But it was my first week living in Florida. Something wasn't right. I asked my parents, but they assured me that it was just my imagination. As the sole of my foot touched the sand, my vision went black.

Then we have the cliche "years flash[ing] before my eyes." The only way you're going to get away with this is if you describe those years in some way. Otherwise, this is junk info that I read and discard, because it just refers to an abstract concept, not any kind of detail I can visualize.

The other problem here is that, by not describing what this character sees, we don't know what the "years" are. Are they the years of his life, as the cliche generally means? Or are they, as I realized after reading further, probably years of history?

Hope this helps.
 

maestrowork

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You want a tip? Here's one I've always given:


Go watch a movie. Better yet, pause the DVD at your favorite scene and replay it. Now, start writing the scene: from describing the setting, location, background, etc. to the characters to the dialogue and action.

Do not summarize. Do not "tell" us things like "she's hungry." Do not interpret the scene for us. Focus only on what you can report on: facts, action, things that you can actually observe: "She rummaged through the garbage, then took out a half-eaten apple and chomped on it, then swallowed the core, too." Describe things in terms of the five senses: sight, sound, taste, smell and touch.

Do it in details -- don't skip, take your time -- until you can completely recapture that scene in literary form and the readers can experience the same thing without ever watching that scene themselves.
 
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maestrowork

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The next best thing is read some screenplays. Not for prose, but for the way they write scenes after scenes of "show, not tell" and yet still convey the emotions, thoughts, etc. of the character clearly.

The Green Mile is a good one to start, so is The Talented Mr. Ripley. But really, just pick up any award-winning screenplay and study.
 

PGK

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The next best thing is read some screenplays. Not for prose, but for the way they write scenes after scenes of "show, not tell" and yet still convey the emotions, thoughts, etc. of the character clearly.

The Green Mile is a good one to start, so is The Talented Mr. Ripley. But really, just pick up any award-winning screenplay and study.

Good tip. Where can I find such a screenplay? Besides illegally downloading one (which I refuse to do) I have no idea where to find one.

Horserider92:

This isn't my best example of writing but I hope this can help clarify the "show not tell" problem.

**Corban brushed past Elsa with a swagger. He turned the knob then hesitated with his head cocked to the side like a pup.
"Move," Elsa said and wedged herself between him and the door.
Corban sniffed the air hesitantly and stepped backwards until the window stopped him. Elsa nodded her head towards the blue Vicks container he held in his hand. After a moment she shrugged her shoulders and opened the door with a wide swing.
Corban covered his nose with the back of his hand as he looked away. He widened his eyes blinking furiously and then squeezed them shut to let the tears wash the sting away.
Elsa smacked a glove against her wrist and cleared her throat. "Ready?" she asked.**

This has plenty of show in it. If you had to judge based on this alone what would you say is happening? what do you know about the two characters?

Alternatively:

**Like all rookies, Corban thought he had this down pat. Elsa might have been an old pro, but he wasn't going to let her show him up on their first case together. As he approached the door he caught a whiff of what lay behind it. The stench made him second-guess his cockiness.
"Move," Elsa said with authority.
Corban went as far back as he could before the window stopped him. Elsa was looking at his hand and he knew she wanted him to use the Vicks under his nose to cover the smell, but he was too macho for that nonsense. Elsa shrugged her shoulders as if to say oh, well, your decision. She opened the door confidently and without hesitation.
Corban looked away as the foul odor permeated the room. He felt sickened by it and tried to cover his nose to keep from throwing up. He squeezed his eyes shut as the smell was strong enough to make his eyes sting.
Having done this a hundred times before, Elsa put her gloves on and prepared to get her hands dirty. "Ready?" she asked, knowing the only way for Corban to be successful as a crime scene investigator . . .**

This had plenty of tell. I'm telling you Corban's a rookie, Elsa's a pro, there's a dead "something" behind the door, it stinks, Corban's a little full of himself, he's also unsure, blah blah.

Think of it like painting a picture without the little "thought bubble" telling the reader what the character is thinking and why.
Probably a bad example, but think of the Mona Lisa and the infinite possibilities her smile is concealing.

As for the rushing . . . I still haven't figured that one out yet myself. What I do is just rush through some scenes to get to the juicy one's I can't wait to write and then I go back during the rewrite and take my time expanding on those scenes I rushed through. Probably not the best idea though.

Hope this helps.
 

Linda Adams

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Good tip. Where can I find such a screenplay? Besides illegally downloading one (which I refuse to do) I have no idea where to find one.

Some DVDs for TV shows and movies include screenplays as part of the special features. I think some of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer ones have scripts. There may also be some that have been released as books--I remember that Star Wars was released as a special edition like that.

You could also try here for screenplays (Jerry Ohlinger's Movie Materials Store): http://moviematerials.com/. When I was collecting movie memorabilia, I bought a lot of stuff from him. If there's any science fiction conventions in your area, you should be able to find a dealer at the con who is selling scripts. Book Castle in Burbank, CA is another place: http://www.bookcastlesmovieworld.com/ I used to go in there, and they would have piles of scripts for sale.
 

kaitie

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I also vote for picking up a couple of your favorite books and then getting out a pen/highlighter/something of that sort and going through them critically. Look at each sentence and ask yourself what it's showing, why it works. Highlight everything that uses the senses to describe something.

I also suggested this one to someone elsewhere, but I don't remember where so I can't really explain it, but read a section or chapter straight, just the way you'd normally read a book. Then pull out a notebook and write down everything you can. Where did it take place? What do you know about the character (from that section only)? What happened? Then go back and open it back up again, and look for the specific passages that gave that information. What you've written on that paper is probably mostly tell, because that's how we summarize. "Bob was mad at Jerry. They're in a dark basement. It's old and mildewy. It's the middle of the night," etc. Hopefully, when you go back and see what it is the author actually said you'll be able to see a difference.

Just some thoughts on what might work.

As for pacing or rushing through, don't worry about that so much on the first draft. That can be fixed more easily in rewrites, I think.
 

JayG

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So any tips to showing-not-telling and how not to rush?

In my experience, rushing is the result of focusing on the story as the most important thing, so of course you hurry to get to what you feel are the exciting parts. But it’s the characters that readers focus on. Take a character you really like and place him/her in a different setting/story and you’d pick up the book because you like the way the protagonist handles the situation. That’s why series are popular. I suspect that were you looking at your story as a series of scenes, and thinking about each scene as it fits into the whole, and what it accomplishes, you’d be too busy handling that to rush.

As for how to avoid telling, you might want to try a scene in which the sequence is:

1. You introduce the real world event that the character will next react to, and do that divorced from the character. Instead of saying the character heard a noise—which tells us s/he’s heard it, identified it, and thought about it before we learn it exists. Reverse it and let us know about it first. Tell us what his senses are experiencing, be it a sound, smell, or the burn of a knife blade touching his throat. That way we, not the character, will react, and will think about what needs to be done, or worried about.

2. The character has a gut-level reaction, if warranted. Maybe s/he grunts, drops the jaw, or blinks in confusion.

3. The character internalizes the sensory data and decides if it relates to them: "Was that a sparrow… in the house?" What that does is to tell us what the character is reacting to, which might not be what we expect, because the character can misinterpret, or let their personal biases interfere with their understanding. Think a drunk holding a conversation, for example.

4. The character chews through the problem. This is where you have the character think about the questions and solutions your reader might suggest, and have that character dismiss those other then what he or she will do. It brings your reader on board. This step also keeps you honest because you need to use the character’s personality and desires, and they can’t simply do what you might want them to do unless it’s in the personality you’ve given them. This is where the character can become real to a reader. At some point that reader is going to wonder why your protagonist isn’t simply saying, “This is crazy. I could get killed,” and leaving. Having the character think about that, and dismiss it because there's no other choice, is the call to battle that may initiate the climax.

5. The character acts on the motivation. And in doing so probably generates the next step motivation in the chain. Someone speaks, he answers. Someone throws a bottle he ducks, and…
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

The above is what is may be called motivation/reaction unit writing. The strength of it is that it places the reader into the character’s POV, and the discrete steps represent the clock ticks of the protagonist's life, adding a feeling of urgancy to a problem. The structure—that of having the reader learn of the situation before the character—causes the reader to react before the character, which makes that character's actions act as measuring stick for the reader’s assessment of the situation, and adds uncertainty to the story in the reader’s mind as they help the character plan what to do next.

Hope this helps
 

thpate21

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Not rushing is one reason I write in longhand. It gives me a chance to think before writing, and I can only write so fast and remain legible.

I do this exact thing. I started writing in longhand just a few years ago, and my writing has improved significantly from it.
 

ishtar'sgate

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Not rushing is one reason I write in longhand. It gives me a chance to think before writing, and I can only write so fast and remain legible.
I'e always written in longhand. If I get too carried away and write faster than I should I can't read my scrawl. It slows me down because I hate going back and rewriting those parts.
 

Stanmiller

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I have an issue of telling when I write. I've been trying to practice, but it's hard for me. I also tend rush the story too fast.

If you want an example of my writing here (sorry I didn't edit it):
http://docs.google.com/View?id=dpfn8rd_28hq3bxgd5


So any tips to showing-not-telling and how not to rush?


Thanks very much for answering.



I guess I look at this from a different angle than other respondents...

I like to rush. I like that fierce joy, that adrenalin kick that flows words directly from my brain to the page. If I can sustain it, even for only one page, it makes up for days of drudge grammar and spellchecking.

Without that, I'd look for something else to get the adrenaline going. Like skydiving. Or Russian roulette.

--Stan :evil
 

bglashbrooks

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Me too.

Not rushing is one reason I write in longhand. It gives me a chance to think before writing, and I can only write so fast and remain legible.

That's exactly what I have to do to slow myself down...plus, writing long-hand means that I get an extra edit in when typing it into the computer!
 

cbenoi1

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> how not to rush?

There are two aspects to consider here.

One is about writing method, a.k.a. outline versus no outline. Rushing to write the story as it emerges with the aim of spending time editing the prose later is not a bad approach. Many successful writers don't outline their stories first.

The other aspect is that, in parallel to outline/no outline, some writers tend to overwrite during drafts and cut during editing (the 'cutters'), while others will underwite in drafts and fill in the missing pieces during editing (the 'fillers').

There is no right or wrong way for either aspects. You can be an outliner/cutter or any other combination, as long as it works for you.

From the way you have worded your context, I'm concerned that you expect to be able to write a perfect first draft. The reality is you'll be working on a series of versions between a first draft and a final manuscript. It's perfectly adequate to 'tell' in a first draft while the creative juice is flowing and you don't want the more difficults areas to become speed bumps.

> So any tips to showing-not-telling
>> The above is what is may be called motivation/reaction unit writing.

I'll complement JayG's excellent answer by adding that you should check out the book "Scene & Structure" by Jack M. Bickham or "Techniques of the Selling Writer" by Dwight Swain. My preference is on the first, though.

-cb
 
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Elizabeth George's book Write Away