We’ve all heard it before, “show, don’t tell.”, but what does that really mean? I know I have struggled a great deal in my own writing with making my descriptions pack a punch that will knock the reader over, if not out. Where do I struggle the most? The dreaded adverb.
I’m sure you’ve dealt with this before. You’ve fretted over how to get the reader to understand the venom in a lover’s spiteful retort and written something like this:
She stared at him angrily. “I’ve had enough. You and your… Mistress can enjoy our two story house, I’m gone.” She said hatefully.
Did you see them? The two adverbs that take all of the fun out of reading? Angrily and Hatefully. Yes, they get the point across. As a reader you understand her feelings, but you have that knowledge because I as the writer told you, I didn’t show you.
When you’re writing that first draft, pay no mind to these sneaky adverbs. Write, write, write and don’t look back. Freaking write it like you stole it! Stuff a gag in that inner editor, tie him to a chair in the bottom-most basement of your mind palace. Most importantly, write!
Once that first draft is done, and your all petered out from your artistic exertions, take a well-deserved break. Relax. Sip a glass of wine in celebration and pencil in a date to come back later and begin your edit.
When you do come back you can find these instances of adverberly sabotage with a simple tool “Find/Replace”. Most of your top-end editor have it. You can use it to find specific words or formatting and then replace it with something else, or the best trick, you can find it and “highlight” it. That’s what I want you to do with those LY’s. Find each and every one of them and highlight them.
Now what? Now you are going to put that creativity to work. Let’s use the example above. I have two adverbs that are glaring at me to be fixed. The first one is angrily. I could leave it, but there is so many other ways to show you the reader what she is feeling and to ramp up our money maker: conflict.
She stared at him. Her blue eyes sharp daggers that threatened to pierce him to the bone.
There we go, now we are getting somewhere. Now you know she’s not just angry, she’d kill him with a look if she could.
“I’ve had enough. You and your… Mistress can enjoy our two story house, I’m gone.” She said. Tears filled the rims of her eyes. Her body shook from head to toe and she could taste copper as her teeth sank into the soft flesh of her cheek.
Look at that. Now I’ve taken a short sentence and some dialogue and I’ve beefed it up to a couple sentences, added some more conflict and most importantly, I’ve shown you what she is feeling, I haven’t told you.
Why do we show and not tell? Two reasons: suspension of belief and immersion. When we tell the reader what is going on, the reader, smart little cookies that they are, hear the writer. They hear you TELLING them what’s happening. When you SHOW they hear it in their own voice or the one they’ve imagined for the narrator. This keeps the reader engaged, interested and buried deep in your story-trap, right where you want them!
if you get a chance, apply this to some of your older WIPs (Work-In-Progress) and see if you can’t give it some pop! Cheers!