Jumping Into the Action

PUSH YOURSELF TO THE LIMIT

The Too Often Referenced but Valuable “Show, Don’t Tell”:

Writers often hear “show, don’t tell.”  But what exactly does that mean?

It means using dialogue, emotion and senses for description instead of synopsis or backstory.  Focus on the human senses-sight, taste, smell, touch and sound.  For example, don’t simply write “John stood at the street corner.”  Instead, write something like “John stood at the corner of Main and Market.  He glanced at the advertisement pasted to the shop window.  Dust clung to the window, a testament to the age of the little shop. A gust of wind ripped down the street hastening in a hint of rain and tempting aromas from the diner two doors down.”

(Disclaimer: these aren’t perfect examples, but you probably get the idea.)

How to jump right in:

With my first two novels I struggled to “show” in each of my scenes.  This summer, I figured out a simple tip that has helped me focus on dialogue and character actions instead of backstory or focusing too long on setting.

Open each scene with your character already immersed in a conversation, already on their journey (literally and/or metaphorically), or busy doing whatever they’re supposed to.

Example of setting everything up first:

             I sat perfectly still in the ornate oak chair, back straight like a lady’s should be.  Usually, I attended meetings like these with my father.  I would listen to everything the advisers said, but I’d lean my elbows on the table slouched over unlike any lady in the kingdom.  It suited then, but now I had to appear the one in charge. 

              “Lady Evelena, as you may know the estate is lacking sufficient funds to continue in its present state.”  One of the advisers said from across the table.

                “What do you suggest as remedy?”  I asked.

                “There is a simple choice, though we are already aware of your likely opinion.”  The adviser said.  “We suggest you marry quickly to a wealthy nobleman.”

                I stood so quickly my chair slid across the floor, screeching as it went.  My cheeks flushed, but I remained mute.  I knew this decision would save the estate, but it couldn’t be my only option.  There had to be something-anything-else.

Example of switching the scene around to start in the action:

             “Lady Evelena, as you may know the estate is lacking sufficient funds to continue in its present state.”  One of the advisers said from across the table.

                I sat perfectly still in the ornate oak chair, back straight like a lady’s should be.  Usually, I attended meetings like these with my father.  I would listen to everything the advisers said, but I’d lean my elbows on the table slouched over unlike any lady in the kingdom.  It suited then, but now I had to appear the one in charge.  “What do you suggest as remedy?”  I asked.

                “There is a simple choice, though we are already aware of your likely opinion.”  The adviser said.  “We suggest you marry quickly to a wealthy nobleman.”

                I stood so quickly my chair slid across the floor, screeching as it went.  My cheeks flushed, but I remained mute.  I knew this decision would save the estate, but it couldn’t be my only option.  There had to be something-anything-else.

This is a simple change, but it altered the way I write.  Maybe it won’t work for every scene or writer, but I find it helpful.  Keep in mind not to cut out or switch around so much that you confuse your reader.  You still need to include the location, just be careful where you choose to put that information in your scene.

Random side not: the last example is directly from the first draft of one of my unpublished novels in the works.  (If you like the passage comment below.  It’s always great to hear that my writing doesn’t suck!)

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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