Show, Don’t Tell?

You’ve probably heard your teachers say it a lot. But the truth is, you need to do both. You have to know when to show and when to tell.

Example: Her toothbrush was pink and purple, with little red sparkles all over it. Two of the little brushes sticking out of the top were red; the rest were white. The toothbrush had a pink grip on its handle that let her hold it better. Slowly, she picked up the toothbrush and began to brush her teeth.

Whoa! Do we care about what the toothbrush looks like? Do we even care that she brushed her teeth? No. And if you have to say that she brushed her teeth, 1) make sure it’s relevant to the story, and 2) don’t use more than a sentence.

Show only when it makes sense to show. Maybe your character is sitting on the edge of a cliff, staring at the vast world below him/her. Then you should show. But skip through the boring things. Trust me: we don’t care what the toothbrush looks like.

But maybe that’s a bad example. How many people actually describe their toothbrushes anyway? Here’s another:

Example: She stroked her long brown hair and thought for a moment, her large eyes wide with concern. Slowly, she reached down and picked up her pink cellphone, chewing on her Spearmint gum. Her mind swirling with thoughts, she accepted the call and held the phone to her ear.

Give your readers some credit. Come on. We know what it’s like to pick up a phone. The parts where you should go into detail the most and really “capture the moment” are the most important parts in the story. Or the parts where your readers will want to know every little detail. Say you’re writing something really suspenseful. Your readers will be hanging on to every little word with bated breath. That’s when you delve into detail and stretch it out (but not too much!) because your readers are literally thinking, Come on, come on… then what?

Think about the cell phone scene again. It was boring before, right? But what if the girl had been waiting for this call all her life? What if the whole story revolved around her picking up the phone at this very moment? All of a sudden, your reader is sitting on the edge of his/her seat, waiting for her to pick up the phone. It could change her life. Then by all means, go ahead and show! Go ahead and drag it out. Because we care.

A writer who only tells is a pretty crappy writer, but a writer who only shows is equally crappy. The skillful writer knows exactly when to tell and exactly when to show in order to keep his/her audience captivated.

Adverbs vs. Verbs

All right, so this is just an extra tip to help you with your writing. I didn’t include it on the “Writing Tips” page; instead, I put it in a post. Here it is: Avoid adverbs. Seriously. When you write, instead of sticking in a weak verb plus an adverb, put in one strong verb.

Example: She walked quickly.

Better choice: She strode.

Another one: He spoke loudly.

Better choice: He yelled.

Adverbs clutter up the text. Strong verbs are clean, save space, and make your writing sound a lot more fluent. Use them! Here are a few strong verbs:

  • to splutter
  • to stumble
  • to shriek
  • to groan
  • to scamper
  • to dash
  • to nibble
  • to rasp
  • to gnaw

Obviously, there are tons and tons and TONS more. But you get the idea. Strong verbs are better than weak verbs plus adverbs. However, don’t forget- for a verb to be strong, it doesn’t have to be long. That rhymes. 🙂 My point is, big words don’t always impress people. In fact, more often than not, they end up making you look like an idiot. “He puked” is much better than “he regurgitated.” Don’t try using fancy language to impress people. Write naturally. Write with your own style.

Point of View

Okay, so I guess this is kind of a follow-up to yesterday’s post. About the robin. There was this poem by Shel Silverstein that I kept thinking about while I was writing the post, and last night I went upstairs and looked through Where the Sidewalk Ends until I found it. Here it is:

 

Point of View

Thanksgiving dinner’s sad and thankless

Christmas dinner’s dark and blue

When you stop and try to see it

From the turkey’s point of view.

 

Sunday dinner isn’t sunny

Easter feasts are just bad luck

When you see it from the viewpoint

Of a chicken or a duck.

 

Oh how I once loved tuna salad

Pork and lobsters, lamb chops too

Till I stopped and looked at dinner

From the dinner’s point of view.

 

~Shel Silverstein~

 

I love Shel Silverstein’s poetry. It’s so unique and so different. He’s got such an amazing way of looking at things… this poem is more entertaining than anything else, but a lot of his poems have a deeper meaning and can make you think- and laugh- at the same time.

Going back to the robin thing. I know, I know… you’re probably getting sick of it, but I like relating things back to other things. I found another Shel Silverstein poem that goes with it. It’s short and simple, but it has the point of view thing again.

 

Early Bird

Oh, if you’re a bird, be an early bird

And catch the worm for your breakfast plate.

If you’re a bird, be an early early bird-

But if you’re a worm, sleep late.

 

~Shel Silverstein~

 

Don’t you always hear that phrase? “The early bird catches the worm”? But what about the worm? I guess you could say, “The early worm gets eaten.” It’s interesting to see things from the worm’s point of view.

I was sitting on the bench in the garden today, staring at robins (I know, I’m such a creep :P) and there was this cute little robin walking around with two worms in its mouth. It was trying to pull out a third one, but it hadn’t eaten the first two, and it just couldn’t hold them all in its beak! So when it finally pulled it out (it was a HUGE worm, by the way, almost as long as the robin itself), it would walk a few steps, drop all its worms, hunt around for them, pick them up, walk a few more steps, drop all its worms…

You get the picture. Robins are such funny little birds. Of course, I could pick on sparrows too, and cardinals… in fact, most birds I can think of look really silly at one point or another.

But then again, most people I know look really silly at one point or another. Including me, of course. 🙂

Streptococci and Robins

I didn’t go to school today not because I was feeling sick (because I feel fine), but because I’m contagious and don’t want to give strep throat to anyone else. I think that’s the best kind of sickness- to feel wonderful and miss school anyway. 🙂

I’ve been a lazy butt all day, and every single time I look out the window the same robin is taking a bath in our birdbath. It just sits there, splashing water all over its body. It looks so funny- and so cute! I’m looking at it right now, and it’s making such a mess, splashing water everywhere. Once it’s done, it flies up to a tree and shakes itself dry. It looks like a puffball. And then, after it’s dry, it flies back down and starts bathing again. What the heck.

I wonder what it would be like to be a robin. It would be interesting, wouldn’t it? It could make a good story- writing from a robin’s point of view. I’m inclined to try it. It’s always interesting to look at something from a different perspective. If people could learn to do that, then a lot of the problems in this world wouldn’t exist. A lot of arguments could easily be avoided, and people wouldn’t be in such a hurry to pass judgments.

Next time you see a robin, try to imagine what it’s thinking.

Robert Frosting

I am not going to say who it was, because that would be mean, but I was talking to someone yesterday, and he said Robert Frosting instead of Robert Frost. It was hilarious! So I thought, in honor of this Robert Frosting moment, I would post one of his poems on my blog. Besides “The Road Not Taken” and “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” this is one of my favorites:

 

Into My Own

One of my wishes is that those dark trees,

So old and firm they scarcely show the breeze,

Were not, as ’twere, the merest mask of gloom,

But stretched away unto the edge of doom.

 

I should not be withheld but that someday

Into their vastness I should steal away,

Fearless of ever finding open land,

Or highway where the slow wheel pours the sand.

 

I do not see why I should e’er turn back,

Or those should not set forth upon my track

To overtake me, who should miss me here

And long to know if still I held them dear.

 

They would not find me changed from him they knew-

Only more sure of all I thought was true.

 

~Robert Frost~

 

Well? I know, I know. You’ve got to love Robert Frosting.