I have a tip for you. Have you ever known what you wanted to write, but not really how to get it into words? Have you ever tried to describe something but couldn’t capture the image right? Yeah, that happens to me a lot.
I find that my main problem is trying to explain things to the reader. I don’t want to confuse them, but at the same time I shouldn’t just explain everything. I should show it somehow. When I’m editing, I’m constantly sectioning off the parts where I try to explain to the reader, and then try to figure out ways to show them.
Think about it. In reality, we don’t have random explanations of things whenever we see them. A trick to see if you are explaining things is think of your scene as a movie. If what you are writing isn’t being shown and would end up in a voice-over narration, then you are probably explaining. If you can imagine it in a movie scene, then you’re good. Characters talking, things happening, that’s all good. But if what you are writing can’t be shown, then it is probably an explanation.
Say your character sees someone who has a reptuation for being trouble. Let’s say you wrote, “Everyone knows that he is trouble. He’s always hanging around in the sktchy parts of town and skipping classes.” This can’t be shown in the immediate present of the story, like it would in a movie. Maybe you could write a flash back, but there are more immediate options. Instead of telling the reader that the guy is trouble, show them.
And keep in mind that this isn’t inclusive of monologues. The character’s interior stream of consciousness is an important tool in telling the story, but it has to be used wisely and carefully. There’s a find line between explaining everything and giving your character a nice little interior monologue.
But struggle no longer! I have a trick that’s been helping me. I’ll walk you through it.
Let’s say your characters are going into a really old house, for whatever reason. If I had written it, I would have probably made the mistake of having a paragraph that explains that the house is old. Some explaining is important, but you want to put the reader in the present time of the story as much as possible in order to keep them involved. So don’t dwell on the past until it is immediately relevant. Until something comes up that you simply can’t show them. The goal is to not let that happen, but there a few exceptions to any rule.
Like The Hunger Games. There had to be at least a little bit of explanation in the book about the whole history behind the Hunger Games, since there is a lot behind it that Collins couldn’t possibly show the reader. Or she could have shown it, but it would be setting the story back rather than complementing it.
I mean, if she tried to show the whole capitol-preventing-uprisings-after-war thing, it would take forever and people would lose interest. It’s just as important how you tell the story as how good the story actually is.
First you need to look at the paragraph and figure out the Main Idea. Come up with a one sentence summary of whatever you were trying to get across to your reader the first time you wrote it. Let’s go back to the scene with the characters going into a really old house. In this case, our main idea would be that the house is really old.
Seems simple, right? That’s because it is. We just like to complicate everything on a technical level, even when it can sometimes be really easy.
Here’s where you have some options. You could add in a description of the house. You could try to show it through actions. You could tell the reader through dialogue. Or you could come up with something else entirely.
If you want to use description, maybe use words like, “fragile” and “creaking”. Maybe use personification and describe the house as sad or tired. I’ll have to write an entire post on personification…
If you want to use an action, maybe make something happen that suggests that the house is old. Maybe the floor boards actually creak when they walk across them. It could be something small like that or it could be something bigger, like the floors giving out.
If you want to use dialogue, my personal favorite, then make the characters comment on the age of the house. Maybe one character says, “I’m surprised that the ceilings haven’t fallen apart yet.” Then another character might continue the conversation by saying, “Are you kidding? I’m surprised the whole place hasn’t fallen apart yet.”
And you can combine these, too. Maybe your character says that after cringing at the creak of the floorboards. Maybe you add in bits of description in here or there.
My challenge for you is to find one paragraph in your story that is explaining something to the reader. Whether that be that two characters are in a relationship or that the story is set in winter, find another way to show the reader. Give it a try using Main Idea. It’s the whole show don’t tell thing. Maybe show that the characters are together by having them exchange a quick kiss before one of them walks out the door. Show that it’s winter out by saying that the character hugs his or her coat closer.
Figure out the main idea, and use that to send the message to the reader. Sometimes we write things without really knowing what we are trying to say, just waiting to see where it takes us. But once you have it written down, then you can go back and dissect it. That’s when the editing comes in, making it better.
Editing… it’s not so bad.
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Thank you for reading, and don’t stop writing!