Monday, June 23, 2014

Boredom Busters #2: Don't Tell Me Your Story

by Alycia Morales

*Katy Kaufmann, you won Edie Melson's book. Please contact Alycia at alywmorales (at) gmail (dot) com to claim your prize. If I don't hear from you before next Monday, I'll rerun the contest. Thanks!*

Marcia sat on the park bench and watched people walk past. She felt sad. Today was her birthday, and no one seemed to notice. Must be nobody cared about her. She got up and walked back to the office, where she finished her work day.

Did you sympathize with Marcia?

Why not?

Because I've told the story instead of shown it.

One thing I've noticed that both beginning writers and experienced writers tend to do is tell their story instead of showing it. What is the difference, you ask? Let me show you:

Marcia sat on the park bench with her head in her hands. Silent tears slipped down her fingers and pooled in her palms. She'd be embarassed if anyone at the office noticed her dejection. Instead, she took an early lunch.

It would have been nice if her husband had presented her with a gift this morning. Ten Facebook posts with links to the Kindle Fire should have been enough of a clue, she'd thought. And her kids didn't bring her breakfast in bed, either. It's the first time in ten years she hadn't gotten french toast on her birthday.

She breathed in a deep sigh and let it out. As she stood, she wiped her cheeks with the back of her hands and brushed them off onto her pencil skirt. Marcia let the young mother pushing her toddler past in a stroller with a balloon tied to it pass before she headed back to the office and the rest of her day ... and the empty vase on her desk. Had her coworkers forgotten too?

Now, how do you feel about Marcia?

I now have questions and want to keep reading to find the answers. How old is she? Did her husband plan a surprise party for her? Did her friends and family really forget? How could her husband miss ten Facebook posts?


Here are 4 ways to keep your readers turning pages by showing your story instead of telling it:

1. Avoid passive verbs. To be, or not to be? That is the question. Avoid "be" verbs. Was. Were. Am. Are. Will. Other verbs to avoid are began to and started. If you started to walk, you walked. If you started to get over it, you got over it.

2. Don't let something cause your character to respond. 
(Telling) Alex's anger caused Sarah to leave the house.
(Showing) Sarah turned and walked out the front door when Alex screamed and threw the vase full of roses across the room.

3. Don't allow your character to feel things. And use the five senses. 
(Telling) Rose felt nervous about her first date.
(Showing) Rose glanced at her cell phone again, hoping she hadn't missed a cancellation text from Ben. She picked up the napkin and wiped the sweat off her palms. Discretely, she bent her head to her shoulder, checking to see if her deodorant now failed, letting everyone in on her nervousness. She'd never used an online dating service before.

4. Let the character experience their environment, rather than describing it to the reader.
(Telling) The room was dark and cold and Damien lay in the middle of the floor.
(Showing) Damien woke, shivering in the middle of the concrete floor. Where am I? He squinted through swollen eyes as the rope around his wrists and ankles burned against his cold skin. The scent of hay met his nostrils as a cow bellowed in a nearby stall. A barn. Figures. Only Jeff would bring me to a barn. He rolled onto his back and pushed himself into a sitting position.

TWEETABLES:

Are you tired of telling your story? @AlyciaMorales has some pointers on how to show your readers instead: http://tinyurl.com/prdpt2p {Click to Tweet}

4 Ways to Keep Your Readers Turning Pages: http://tinyurl.com/prdpt2p @AlyciaMorales #amwriting {Click to Tweet}

Usually I'd ask you a question here, but today I'd love to hear from you in story form. Using this "tell," show us your super-short story in 150 words or less: Ronnie is at the river on a hot summer day.

CONTEST: I'll be watching for your responses. Next Sunday (June 29th), I'll pick a winner to receive a print copy of my "Show Me the Moon" meme featured in this post.



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