What Did You Learn?

October 9, 2009

General Writing: Use Your Words!

Filed under: General Writing — Tags: , , — ax20 @ 1:08 am

“If I have included visibility in my list of values to be saved, it is to give warning of the danger we run in losing a basic human faculty: the power of bringing visions into focus with our eyes shut, of bringing forth forms and colors from the lines of black letter on a white page, and in fact of thinking in terms of images.” ~Italo Calvino’s Six Memos, On Visibility.

I was recently reading a manuscript for work about a woman learning to be okay with being in her fifties and loving life. The idea itself showed promise, it had some interesting moments, a deep back story. But the author had a particular problem: tell the reader what was happening. In other words, summarizing events rather than writing them out in detail.

It’s so important to show not tell your story. You need to give enough detail for the reader to be able to visualize the scene (but not so much detail that the reader cannot tell what is important). Don’t simply summarize large portions of time. Especially when something important happens.

How can you show it? Vivid descriptions. Use the five senses as much as possible. Include small things that make a person unique or distinct. Writing something as simple as “purple glasses” instead of simply “glasses” could make all the difference in whether or not a scene comes to life. It takes the vague image of a generic object or expression and makes it specific.

One of the great things about writing is the way the different genres feed into each other. You can learn about one type of writing by studying another. I took two screenplay writing classes, both taught by Marc Weinberg, and I learned more about imagery than from any of my fiction classes. In film, everything is visual. You literally have to show the audience everything. (Imagine a movie where someone just tells you what happened without seeing any of it!!!) Visual cues are embedded into the set and the behavior to give the reader information. Visual cues can be used in novel writing as well. Can be used, and should be! You want to give enough description so that the reader can picture themselves in the story.

So remember, when writing your book: show don’t tell!


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