Don’t Show Too Much

“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
―Stephen King

In an earlier Blog post, I told you that to show and not to tell, and you need to be specific.

That’s true. The more you replace blanket statements with specific detail, the more you’ll immerse your readers in the scene.

However, on the other hand, you don’t need to describe everything. Including too much detail will distract your readers and derail the pace of your story. It could even make it more difficult for your readers to envision the scene in their minds—there won’t be any gaps for them to fill with their imagination.

If you were in the scene you’re writing, what remarkable details would you notice? So include those in your story.

Mention distinctive features of your character’s appearance. Describe vital aspects of the room in which your scene is taking place.

Leave the unimportant things to your readers’ imagination. As describing too much could turn us underwriters into overwriters, and the editing process would still be on the full side of things.

Finding an Author’s Voice

Writing a novel is indeed not as easy as it would seem. If you have already read my recent blog posts, you will know I’m on the 100 days to my first draft of a novel course by the Write Practice.

Submitting around 5000 words every Friday and critiquing at least three other people’s submissions. Just reading 15 to 20,000 words of other people’s first drafts, it does highlight things about the craft of telling a story that you had not yet considered.

Of course, there’s point of view, past tense, and for myself, there is the grammar: Ending sentences with prepositions and seeing comma splices all over the place, for me does produce an irritation, but there’s also dialogue.

When reading dialogue that someone else is saying with either profound accents or under some considerable stress, and reflecting this in the text does cause the flow of reading to have a hickup. Alternatively, even stop and have to go back and reread it, as I did in one case:

“Brian, I’m sure,” said Tom. “Pwease ret me goooooo!” answered Brian.

I’m not trying to say this is horrid, but my attempt to show this would be:

With maximum command in his voice, Tom said, “Brian, I’m sure,” as he held Brian’s neck as tightly as he could. Brian then struggled to answer, with much distortion in his voice, he said, “Please let me go!”

Concerning accents: One of my characters in my novel is from the south of France and in the UK. I do know a Southern French woman and can say that her English is remarkably good. Much better than my two to three phrases of French. Her accent is still profound, as is the character in my novel but I’m not adding any difference to the English text but using the description of the way she said it as I found in this link here; Writing dialogue.

Outline or Pantsing?

I have spoken in previous posts about the benefits of outlining over pantsing. However, I am currently on Day 63 of 100 towards my first draft of my first ever novel.

I started off, a week before the start of the 100 days by finishing my outline of the whole novel and submitting it to the group on the WritePractice. On day 1 I started off with the confidence an outline supplies. Day after day passed and the few thousand words per weeks I was knocking out were getting critiqued.

100 days equates to 14 and a half weeks, with a Friday deadline each week for the 4500 words.

By the 6th week, I was already towards getting to the end of Act 2 and becoming ready for the shorter Act 3 finally. However, I still had 8 and a half weeks more time and words to produce. What was I going to do?

At week 6 of 14 and a half weeks, I sat back and realised I am an underwriter and not the prefered overwriter. I have been whipping through the story at a rapid pace just writing what the scene was and the dialogue that was needed. I knew where I was in the story and also knew where I wanted to be for the final scene.

So week 7 started my pantsing. I slowed everything down and went into detail about body movements and facial expressions, showing and being specific about things that were only needed for the story plot to proceed; everything else was up to the reader’s imagination to produce. From this pantsing, I have developed the story into what appears to me to be a much better style and complex narrative.

I would now say regarding outlining, it is much better for me to do a broad minimal outline with the start, middle and end. However, then leave space for my imagination to take hold of the narrative at the time I am writing it.

This is however, after all, just my own opinion.

Show Don’t Tell

Rule #1:

The most straightforward rule to remember if you’re trying to show is merely to be specific. Specificity will fill in the gaps from your telling and bring life to your scenes.

Here’s a very tell-tale example:

They went to New York to see Cats. They both enjoyed it very much. When they tried to go home, their flight was delayed because of the snow, so they stayed another night and decided to see the musical again.

That’s a fun story. It’s all pretty vague, though, isn’t it?

Who is “they”? At what theatre did they see Cats? Why did they enjoy it? How did they feel after their flight was delayed?

Here’s that same example with some of those questions answered:

Tanya and James flew to New York City. “I can’t wait to see the show,” Tanya said as they checked into their rooms. “You’re going to love it.” James shook his head. “I don’t get it. It’s about cats who sing and dance? Sounds sorta dumb.” Tanya smiled. “Just trust me.”

Their hotel was just a few blocks from the Foxwoods Theater, so they walked. James had never seen any buildings so tall or so many people walking on the street before. When they got to the theatre, Tanya noticed his eyes were a little more full, his mouth a little slacker.

Those two paragraphs are not perfect, but it’s a little better. Instead of “they,” we now see Tanya and James. We know a little more about them, that Tanya is a little more cultured, while James is more wary of it.

More on Dialogue

Some suggestions on how a conversation operates in actual life:

When actual people say things, they look for a response. On the other hand, when they hear things, real people don’t always answer.

For example, someone will say something like, “Oh, it’s a beautiful day, today!” and then wait for the other person to return. Ordinarily, the other person says, “Yeah, it’s gorgeous, right?” But sometimes the other person doesn’t say anything at all. They grunt or roll their eyes or stare out of the window.

People learn how to do this as teens, and it’s a beautiful way to show underlying tension.

But, this isn’t fundamentally the end of the conversation, because actual people talk when no one is listening. Even when people don’t reply; real people keep talking a lot anyway.

This behaviour is an exceptional way to show annoyance if your character’s addressing someone, or insecurity if they can’t stand the sound of silence. It can even show some social clumsiness if they can’t pick up on some social signals.

On the opposite side, there are times when someone doesn’t talk at all. Sometimes, real people are too mad or too nervous or too moody or too much of a youngster to speak.

Don’t make your characters talk if they don’t want it!

Dialogue

I am just starting working seriously on my writing, and I do go into coffee shops, eavesdrop on others conversations, and go home and write down the different ways people start and navigate a conversation.

This has helped me begin to understand how real dialogue worked, but it wasn’t enough. Before I could still write a conversation, and I had to ask WHY. Why does this character say this thing? Why did that character reply like that? How did they arrive on this subject in the first place?

I eavesdropped on conversations for a few months. It did seem a little creepy at first, but I wasn’t leaning over trying to hear. All I was doing was hearing voices that people were vocalising on the next table. It was difficult not to hear them. But it’s taught me so much about how real dialogue works.

For instance, real people do say random things.

As writers, we want our characters to talk about things central to our plot, but humans are pretty weird. They don’t talk about important things. More often than not, they talk about mundane things like the weather and the fact that their football team lost a match last week.

To write realistically random dialogue without losing track of your plot, have your characters begin a conversation about something random, and then circle around to the critical parts of your plot. But, don’t just have a full conversation on the weather today.

Have a Routine to Writing

I’ve had a great start on an idea for a novel. I’ve got nearly thirty-two thousand words into it.

And then I got another new idea for a more exciting project and that is reffered to as, ‘The Shiny New Idea Syndrom’.

I have five or more unfinished novel starts on my computer. I call them my skeleton stories, and I do ask, occasionally, if they will ever be covered in some flesh and have some guts.

Henry Miller seemed to have the same issues. As he was working to finish his first novel, Tropic of Cancer, he wrote a set of eleven commandments to keep himself from racing off into every new novel idea.

“One: Work on one thing at a time until finished,” Henry Miller directed himself.

“Two: Start no more new books, add no more new material to ‘Black Spring.’

“Ten: Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.”

As you’re writing, I’m sure you’ve discovered more ideas for all the other projects on which you could work. Maybe you’ve considered some short stories you could write, or blog posts you could craft, or even other novels.

Those are probably all great ideas to have on hand. So don’t forget them! Write them down in that notebook and pen you always have on your person.

But, don’t get distracted from your current project: writing this first draft.

There will be time enough when you’re finished with this to play around with your hundreds of other concepts. But, if you make it a habit to quit a project halfway through, you’ll never finish any of the books you want to write.

I’m now set on a daily schedule that helps me write five thousand words a week. Unquestionably, some busy days come along and keep you away from your work, but make up for them within the same week.