Show don’t tell.
This is one of those rules that we hear all the time, but most find difficult to grasp. Put simply, “show don’t tell” means to refrain from telling your reader how to interpret your story or understand your characters. Here are some #dirtytipsandtricks that will help you make your storytelling more enthralling.
Isn’t that a great word? Enthralling?
First dirty tip is:
1. Be descriptive. Don’t just tell me the handsome guy’s eyes are green. Describe the color soft brown ring around the pupil and the gold and blue flecks in the iris. Or compare his eyes to something in nature or anything that is familiar that will immediately evoke the color in the reader’s mind which leads me to the next tip…
2. Be metaphorical. However, you do have to be careful with metaphors because they can very easily become cliches. One commonly used metaphor used in romance is “she went to him like a moth to a flame.” I have no idea where or who initially wrote this metaphor, but it and it’s derivatives are often used to express attraction between the hero and heroine in a romance novel. There is also the danger of tripping over a cliche and falling to really flowery or “purple” prose. So be metaphorical, but use them sparingly.
3. Avoid overusing adverbs. I’m going to quote Stephen King here: “The adverb is not your friend. Adverbs…are words that modify verbs, adjectives, or other adverbs. They’re the ones that usually end in -ly. Adverbs, like the passive voice, seem to have been created with the timid writer in mind…With adverbs, the writer usually tells us he or she is afraid he/she isn’t expressing himself/herself clearly, that he or she is not getting the point or the picture across.”
I don’t completely agree with King when he says “the road to hell is paved with adverbs” but I do agree that they should also be used sparingly. When adverbs are overused the story becomes both telling and passive. And this ties into the next tip…
4. Avoid emotional qualifiers. There is an infographic circulating on the interwebz that has something like fifty different words to use instead of saying said. *GROANS* Don’t do this, people. SAID IS ENOUGH. Now I know the inclination, after using said over and over again is to modify what the character said with some sort of emotional qualifier like angrily or sweetly. AVOID THEM ANYWAY. Emotional qualifiers should be used minimally. If you have written effective dialogue the emotions should be recognizable. Or if you feel like you haven’t conveyed the character’s emotions effectively, go back to the first dirty tip. USE DESCRIPTIONS. Facial expressions, body language all of these things are better than ending your dialogue with, “she said angrily.”
5. Be specific. One of the most obvious signs of telling language is that it often deals in generalizations. This is totally okay when you’re telling a story to your friends at the bar. It’s a shorthand that helps you get to the point or the punchline faster. However, in literary storytelling, it’s more effective to be specific. I know this is difficult to stay away from when you’re writing romance because a lot of us follow tropes when we write, but believe me, it’s absolutely possible to convey that the Hero is a jock without leaning on the meathead, musclehead crutch.
So those are 5 #DirtyTipsandTricks to help you show and not tell. Now remember, none of these are hard or fast rules, but it is important to learn them in order to know how to break them effectively.
The Dirty Editor