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.

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.

Crime Fiction Good Advice

1. – On making the crime of the story matter to the sleuth. This is what is known as the inciting incident. 

Whether the crime is large and threatens the future of humanity, or small and only threatens a person’s reputation, it has to matter personally to the sleuth. How this fits into a series novel, I don’t know yet. Maybe there must be an inciting incident in the first book and not in the second, but inciting incidents could happen fairly often.

2. – On generating ideas 

I used to believe that I couldn’t write fiction as I wasn’t skilled at making up things. It turns out you don’t have to be because interesting ideas are all around you. Learn to tune in, and pay attention when your brain says. But the ‘What if…?” question is an ideal generator.

3. – On secrets that fuel your plot 

In a mystery novel: Everyone has secrets, and it’s the revelation of those secrets that propel the story forward within their situation.

4. – On basing your story on a real person and event: 

A real character or an actual event can make an excellent beginning point for a mystery novel. A large number of existing events are too bizarre and unbelievable for fiction.

5. – On advancing your character past cliché: 

Interesting characters startle the reader. Be sure to build a disconnect between your character’s physical demeanour and true capabilities. Then mine the rift, be it through plot and action, reveal who your character becomes.

6. – On profligate adverbs; 

“Oh, goody,” John said enthusiastically as he smiled radiantly. 
Eradicate as many of those ‘-ly’ adverb words and replace them with excellent descriptions of what a character does. It’s the: SHOW DON’T TELL.

7. – On the unlikely villain: 

Yes, you want to surprise the reader. But the surprise has to be believable and realistic. All the evidence has to bein the novel somewhere.

8. – On coincidence: 

If some major part of your plot hinges on coincidence, readers will cry foul. Sure, there are coincidences in actual life, but your fictional world is far more demanding. Only unfortunate coincidences are realistic in real life and fiction.