Saturday, August 1, 2015

August 2015 - Show Don't Tell: Adding Essentials

 #8 Revision is a Process

This is Part 8 of a 12-part series on Revision is a Process @ 2015 All Rights Reserved

There is no better way to spot room for improvement in your manuscript than by looking at it with fresh eyes. — SELF-EDITING FOR FICTION WRITERS

Showing takes lots of words. More words than telling. Here is an example—

Telling: The man was bitten by the dog.

Showing: The Doberman's teeth clamped down, piercing through John's leather jacket.

Telling is a summary. In the heat of drafting, writers often grab telling words and phrases and construct passive sentences. Showing is vivid because it uses image-provoking verbs and nouns. It's about being concrete and specific and keeping to a cause-effect sequence that is believable and easily understood.

So, in the heat of drafting, writers either don't describe things in vivid terms, or the writer skims over elements to blatantly and passively tell.

One indicator of telling is descriptions and descriptive passages. If they exceed three sentences, which is 60 to 80 words of description, at any given point, that's likely too much.

It's far better to sneak in descriptions in the action and flow of the story. Here's an example from my new novella HEARTS AKILTER:

He glanced out into the darkness beyond the lift. Giant machinery stood silhouetted and veiled in shadows. “Where are we?”

To locate telling descriptions in your manuscript, take hard copy and use a highlighter to mark all descriptions. If you have a sprinkling, well done. If you have a block? Then you might want to reword or revise.

One other thing to look for is sensory perceptions. Or rather the lack thereof. Most drafts are sight-heavy, that is, things are described from the narrator looking at them. There are five basic sensory perceptions: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. Some "rules of thumb" I've seen are to use a different sensory perception every page, every three pages, every five pages. Of course, those "rules" are not written in stone. All depends on the type of story being told and who the narrator is and how that narrator filters the sensory input and gives it to the reader.

So, take a highlighter of a different color than you have used before and look for sensory perceptions that are not "sight." If you have great gaps between colors, why is that? Then look for places where you can add in sounds and smells, etc., but do it so it flows naturally and is in the narrator's voice.

*** This blog is updated the first of each month. The next topic is September 2015 — Show Don't Tell: Dialogue

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