e-book Show Dont Tell: A Writers Guide (Classic Wisdom on Writing)

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Rainbow-maned pegasus. Dirt-covered carpet. Obstacle-ridden forest. A mistake most new writers make quite a bit is tense inconsistency. Tense mess ups like this are usually easy fixes, so just read through your story a few times to make sure no unintended time travelling occurs. A more subtle and also harder-to-explain error is the mixing of the past and past perfect tenses.


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In my experience, mistakes of this sort are usually made by non-native English speakers. An often-overlooked part of getting tenses right is the proper use of words that refer to time.

Writing Tips: Show, Don't Tell | Writing Forward

However, it is sometimes appropriate to use some of these words in a past tense narrative, and it has been done in published books. My recommendation is to be careful about using them, but not cut them out entirely. This little debate highlights the difference between grammar and style.

And even if your work is entirely grammatically correct, it may still be confusing or irritating to read. Developing a good style is about learning how to manipulate the way you write to convey the ideas, feelings and worlds that you want to in a way that is clear and makes the reader want to read more. Unlike with grammar, there are no specific rules and systems that will guarantee you do things right every time, but there are a number of hints that can get you started. In the end, I decided to just write my opinions on writing, and explain them as best I could.

Wounds begin to bleed, opponents begin to fight, and barrels start rolling down hills. There are, however, some cases where this is appropriate. Use metaphors instead of similes. It adds nothing, and should you find yourself using it, get to reordering your sentence. There are many, many more meaningless phrases and writing ticks than just these, but I hope they gave you some idea of what to look out for. It is sometimes bad form, yes, but only when there are more elegant alternatives.

Walking along the road one day, Twilight came across her friend Pinkie Pie.

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It gets a little disorientating 7 and is very annoying. By referring to characters with descriptors, you take the reader away from them. Therefore, the worst place to succumb to LUS is in dialogue. Twilight smiled and complimented her on the success of her most recent party.

Pinkie Pie bounced down the street on her carefree way. The ponies of Ponyville smiled and waved at Pinkie, and Pinkie smiled back at them. If you find yourself doing that, the answer is not to start replacing names with descriptions. Instead, try to replace as many names as possible with pronouns. The ponies of Ponyville smiled and waved at her, and she smiled back at them.

If the problem persists, rearrange and reword your sentences until it goes away. You can often deal name repetition a killing blow by removing obvious speaker attributions and addresses. A lot of the time, a problem that appears to be one of name overuse actually ends up being one of repetitive sentence structure , and the practice of slapping descriptors into your writing in place of names only addresses a symptom of that. Sometimes, this can be what you want to do. Substituting names from descriptors is a good way to zoom the reader out from their more intimate engagement with the story, and have them look at the big picture for a moment.

As the rule above states, named characters should be referred to by names. LUS can have specific applications in writing where it stops being a syndrome and becomes… something nice? Both styles of sentence have their places in writing, but a really dull way to write fiction is to use passive voice too much. What it does is that it makes everything overlong and makes it so that all urgency or immediacy is stripped from the story.

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All of these extra words cause the reader to become bored and also the pacing is killed by them the extra words. What I am saying is not that you should always avoid passive voice, but that you should say as much as you can in as few words as you can. Case in point, the above paragraphs: hideous passive voice.

Writing Tips: Show, Don’t Tell

Newbie authors often make the mistake of writing too much of their work in passive voice out of a misguided desire to make their sentences sound more sophisticated. Florid prose is very difficult to pull off. Any writer who wishes to write beautiful descriptive paragraphs and clever metaphors needs to have a large, nuanced vocabulary and the ability to visualise things very clearly.

Yeah, just try to read that whole thing. That style of writing is just that: a specific style, not the Holy Grail of wordsmithery that all authors should seek to emulate. Personally speaking, my eyes tend to skim long descriptive passages anyway. Excessive description is just boring. Writing like you speak is the best way to avoid using unfamiliar words you may not fully understand, or making complex sentences with more clauses than you can handle.

You might like to consider using a dictionary program with a thesaurus feature such as the excellent WordWeb or a physical dictionary and a thesaurus, if you like dead trees. This will allow you to familiarise yourself with whatever words catch your fancy before using them. The best way to describe it is with examples.

She remembered doing the same with her previous students. Show: Princess Celestia looked down at Twilight Sparkle, an age-worn face on a pillow. Her eyes were wet with tears. All old, all smiling… all with permanently closed eyelids. Tell: Pinkie turned on her chainsaw and menacingly walked over to Rainbow Dash, preparing to cut her in half.

Dash was horrified. Show: Pinkie revved her chainsaw and skulked across the room.

Dash started crying. And finally, a few examples of when an author both shows and tells errors easily fixable with the backspace key :. The squirrel twitched for the last time. Fluttershy sniffled as she pulled a cloth over it , heartbroken by the passing of one of her animal friends. Rarity hummed a tune as she passed a long strip of red cloth through her sewing machine , revelling in the joy of creation. Now, showing is often a good deal harder than telling. The enormous benefit to that extra thought is that is much, much more engaging for the reader. Imagine what Spike would do in that situation, and tell us that.

I love colours , and bold and italic text are both great ways to emphasise things. Non-linked underlines , on the other hand, belong in the 20th century. As fun as these little flourishes are, fiction-writing has some specific conventions regarding which ones can be used, and what they should be used for. Keep in mind that most people read fiction as a form of escapism, and that strangely-formatted text can be a real immersion-killer. In fiction, using italics for thoughts formatted in the same way as speech, but without the quotation marks: I really like her mane, thought Sweetie Belle and emphasised words is generally accepted, although some say that even this is bad practice.

Screw said tags and their complicated punctuation, amirite? For those who do, use non-saturated colours, and either make them as unobtrusive as possible, or go completely insane. Thank heaven for small mercies. Using different fonts in the same story for effect can work nicely when handled with care.

This sort of thing is optionally accompanied by a shift into center-align, something I personally like to use coupled with italics instead of a font change. Strikethoughs should only be used in comedy trollfics. I daresay I love footnotes even more 12 than I love colours. Links are even more troublesome than footnotes, and sadly more widely used.

A free-thinking sceptic

Keep those for when human minds have become so accustomed to soaking in tonnes of information every second that wiki links become mandatory features of stories. Use multiple documents, have as many links as possible, make weird mazes, and tell some kind of weird interactive avant-garde hypertext story or something. Same with footnotes, actually. The occasional link or footnote is the death of immersion, but barrages of them create a new kind of immersion.