By Laura Drake
Writers in the Storm is kicking off the summer with a series of guest blogs and we are so excited!
First in our Summer Line-up is social media guru, Kristen Lamb. Not only is she the author of two best-selling books, We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer , she is an amazing teacher.
You can find Kristen at http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com (or here at Writers In The Storm next Friday) but I warn you…her blogs are highly addictive!
Now – on to the subject of the day —
One of the most difficult aspects of craft I’ve struggled to master is “Show don’t tell.” Yes, I know, this has been covered in a hundred blogs. But I think the reason it’s discussed so often is because there’s so much to it. It’s an onion; you have to peel back layers of complexity to get to the nuances that you find in great fiction.
The first layer, I discovered when someone told me I was using weak verbs. Passive, ‘To be’ verbs like: was, were, has, are, etc. They add nothing to the sentence, and tell the reader not much more.
Tom wants to be a policeman.
Is better as:
Tom wants to work as a policeman.
“Work” is more active than “be.”
Piece of cake. I did a “find” for passive verbs and replaced them with active ones. I dusted my hands and put another notch in my writer-tool belt.
But wait. There was another layer below that.
So : “I’ll have you arrested for trespass.” She said angrily.
Becomes: “I’ll have you arrested for trespass.” She crossed her arms over her chest and wished looks really could kill.
In both, we understand that she’s angry, but the second engages the reader’s brain – they ‘see’ that the woman is mad. It taps into an emotion everyone has experienced, so the reader feels a part of the action. As Browne and King state in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, the first engages your intellect. The second engages your emotions.
Wow. That’s powerful. I was done.
But wait. There’s more.
There’s a phrase I heard years ago, “Don’t show me the soldier; show me the photo in his pocket.” (sorry, I can’t find who it is attributed to.) I think it’s stuck with me over the years because it embodies ‘show, don’t tell.’
You can tell us all day about the tired soldier. You can explain, describe, and make us see it. But have him pull out a photo like this, and just stare at it, and the reader not only gets it, they feel it; the emotional punch to the gut that you so love reading.
That’s my current task; to engage the reader at a deeper level. To grab them at page one and pull them forward, following my character on the emotional roller-coaster that doesn’t release them until the end of the book.
What layers do you know that I have yet to discover? I’d love to hear them.