Show and Tell, Part 2

A recent posting discussed switching your writing style from telling to showing. An important way to keep the reader involved is to make sure your prose is “tight”. By that I mean, writing short sentences with a minimum of repeated or unnecessary words.

If you must use long sentences, do so sparingly. Long, run-on sentence can be confusing. The reader may lose track of what is being said, or who is being referred to. Most of your sentences should make a single statement.

John ran to the door.

If you must include two statements within a sentence, divide them clearly.

John ran to the door, and Mary jumped out the window.

However, if you use “and”, “or”, “when”, or “but” more than once in a sentence, it almost always needs to be rewritten.

Strive for clarity with your words, but don’t overdo it. Remember, you want the reader to be involved in your story, so keep it simple by avoiding multiple adjectives or pronouns.

The absolute, specific instant his wanton tongue touched the savory, delicious lasagna he knew absolutely that he was madly, irretrievably in love with her cooking.

The tale is lost in unnecessary fluff. This is much clearer:

The instant his tongue tasted the delicious lasagna he fell in love with her cooking.

Avoid “that”. In many cases, that can simply be removed without changing its meaning. If it can’t, try rewriting the sentence without it. You’ll probably do so with fewer words.

I think that I am so good that I will never make that mistake again.

I think I am so good I will never make that mistake again.

The last sentence shows my one exception. Having your character use that to refer to something specific — i.e. “that mistake” — is appropriate.

Repeated words can be annoying, and we don’t want to irritate our readers. This also applies to using the same pronouns at the start of consecutive sentences. After finishing a paragraph, read it again for duplicates. Use different words to give the reader variety. In addition, if you start nearly every sentence in a paragraph with “He”, or “She”, rewrite to shake things up.
For example:

Instead of: He ran into the room. He cried, “I want the rose you stole.” He grabbed it and ran out.

Use: He ran into the room, crying, “I want the rose you stole.” Grabbing it, he ran out.

I’ll stop with one more very important piece of advice: your characters must have realistic feelings. For example, a girl may not outwardly react to her mother’s rebuke, but surely her stomach cramps, she may think angry thoughts, or her fists will clench behind her back. Showing this to the reader gives your character depth, and hints at trouble to come. People can’t get involved in two-dimensional characters. They want to know what’s going on inside.

Her stomach cramped as she struggled to keep her face impassive.
“You’re nothing to me,” she stated flatly through quivering lips.
Her mother’s eyes went wide. “You aren’t listening to me.”
Fearing a sob might shatter her uncaring facade, Alice turned quickly and hurried to her room. “Don’t ever talk to me again,” she screamed as the door slammed shut.

Make them want to know more and they won’t be able to get enough of you.

Clifford M. Scovell
Prison Earth – Not Guilty as Charged


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