If you write, you have surely heard the old mantra: “show, don’t count.” I have struggled with that phrase since I began to write, after all, as writers our tools are words, our canvases the blank pages and our art, a good story. How are we supposed to show something without tell it?
Write And Not Count:
A writer must show combining descriptive language, to convey emotions and develop his characters, with action that will advance the story. This sounds complicated, and many of us find ourselves without knowing how to translate theory into practice. How to write a story without telling things? How do I describe my characters without using adjectives?
You cannot “show” everything that happens without telling anything, because the story would be difficult to follow, it would be very choppy and doubts would assail the reader. Nor can you tell everything, since you would make your narration a textbook, you would lose all the rhythm, the depth and you would turn the story into a plain text, without more. There are excellent literary works in which we are told down to the last detail, but we are not all Dostoyevsky.
You have to know how far to show and how far to tell, it is in that mixture where the story is born, there the magic is created.
I’m not going to give you a cheat sheet with the exact measurements, it’s up to you, each author, each writer, shows and tells what they think is necessary, that is part of their style and should not be standardized. It also depends a lot on the genre you choose to write; a bloody horror story in the style of Stephen King, it will have many more parts shown; a horror that hints at before describing itself.
Show And Stop Counting:
These are some examples of how to “show and not tell” that can help you find your voice:
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As always, you are the one who decides what to show and what to tell. You may not want to tell at any time how your character feels towards that woman he meets every morning on his way to work, he may look at her with desire, he may move uncomfortably in his seat on the train when he sees her, he may look away of her, that she stares at her… You decide how far you are going to go, mix, experiment and find the place where you feel comfortable.
Don’t Worry, I’ll Help You:
I am also going to leave you some exercises that may help you when it comes to showing. (It will not be necessary for you to copy the entire statement)
Did you know that only 7% of human communication occurs through words? 55% of communication is what we call non-verbal communication and the remaining 38% is expressed through the tone of voice. As a ghost writer you are limited to paper (or word processor), but your characters are not. Your characters are alive, talking, and communicating with others, so they can use tone of voice and body language. Let those “clues” lead the reader.
You can use these questions if you find yourself stuck:
• What is a person like when they are happy?
• What is a person like when they are upset? Angry? Disappointed?
• What is a person like when he is ashamed?
• What is it like when you feel guilty?
• What is it like when you regret it?
• How does someone confident behave? And someone who is not?
• What is a stupid person like? And a smart one?
These may sound like complicated questions, but we’ve all been through these moods. The biggest problem is that sooner or later you will have to face stereotypes. You may think that your work is free of the typical and cliché stereotyped characters. However, it is not so easy to get rid of them.
Do you recognize any of these characters in the work ?:
1. The field mouse, the redneck.
2. The Gold Digger.
3. The whore with the heart of gold. (Actually, any character with a heart of gold should be erased.)
4. The workaholic.
How are the emotions? Can you describe them? Avoid clichés, those overly clichéd phrases that say nothing. Think of a time when you really felt this way, think of the physical and psychological symptoms you had.
For example, if I think of anxiety, I remember that my hands are sweating, that my heart is beating very fast, I can see it jumping in my chest (bang-bang, bang-bang); I am short of breath and I feel that everything happens in slow motion.
Think about emotions, try to describe them:
• How do you feel sadness?
• How do you feel happiness?
• How do you feel love?
Assume that your readers don’t understand adjectives. How would you explain its meaning to them? Try to describe the following words, without using any other adjectives (apart from the one that is underlined).