Words Category Archive

Show vs Tell: The Pain Lexicon

Now that November is over and your NaNo is finished, it’s time to move on to the next step…QUERYING!

Uhh…wait. That’s not right. Once you’ve taken a step back from drafting your NaNo and given yourself a moment to clear your head, it’s time to edit your WIP until it shines.

For this mini blog series, Lauren Spieller, Charlie N. Holmberg, and I have put together a few (hopefully helpful) tips on how to pump up your writing. Our goal is to help you avoid a few simple pitfalls when describing characters who are experiencing pain.

To kick us off on Show vs Tell, a quote from Anton Chekhov: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

The idea behind “show, don’t tell” is the thought that, believe it or not, readers are pretty darn smart. They are very capable of taking cues and figuring things out on their own. As an example: when a character frowns, most everyone will know (or assume) that character is feeling something negative. Our goal is to take out the moments when we write, “Suzie is mad,” and change them to, “Suzie frowned.” Though, of course, this is very simplified.

Often, there are simple clues that hint that you might be telling instead of showing. Scour your writing for the following words. If you find them, there’s about a 90% chance that you are telling something that would be much more powerful if you would show it instead.

  • thought
  • knew
  • wondered
  • realized
  • decided
  • wished
  • hoped
  • smell
  • see
  • hear
  • feel

Also check for forms of to be (is, are, was, were…), which are clue words that you might be using a passive voice instead of an active voice.

Instead of this these weak words, as writers, we want to choose strong words! Words that have pop, that allow a reader to experience the story along with your characters. This is exactly why Charlie, Lauren, and I created the Pain Lexicon (found in a link at the bottom of this post).

Since this post is supposed to be directed toward PAIN, here’s an example of using “telling” words to describe what a character might feel if they are in pain:

Suzie realized her stomach hurt as pain ran through it.

In the sentence above, we know Suzie’s stomach hurts, so writing the word “pain” becomes redundant. Also, do you see the clue word “realized”? Take it out! If it’s happening to your character, they won’t have to “realize” anything—their response to it will be automatic.

To help make this moment more clear for a reader and show instead of tell, think about what else might be happening to Suzie’s body: is she sweating, or experiencing shortness of breath? Is she bent over and clutching her abdomen? Or perhaps she’s rubbing her skin, trying to make the feeling go away. To fix this sentence, I grabbed a few words off the lexicon: clench, wheeze, and lurch. So, “Suzie’s stomach hurt as pain ran through it,” turns into,

Suzie clenched her fists and wheezed, doubling over as her stomach lurched.

When you show, your reader will be intimately drawn into your character’s experiences, rather than being on the outside. If we look at the science behind storytelling, it seems that with good showing, our brains can’t actually tell the difference between reading about an experience and having it happen first hand.

If you are working on this very thing in your writing, the next time your character has a tummy ache, is shot, or falls and breaks an arm, I challenge you to forbid  yourself to write the word pain. Try it! Use the Pain Lexicon to identify words that pop and zing. It might be difficult at first, but the end product will be powerful writing that your reader will be able to experience right along with your character.

What tricks do you use when trying to show rather than tell? I’d love to hear about any struggles you might have, or if you’re especially good at this!

Pain Lexicon

Visit Charlie’s website for her post: The Pain Lexicon: Using Physical and Emotional Descriptors in “Painful” Passages.
Visit Lauren’s website for a post: The Pain Lexicon: Let’s Make It Hurt.

Here are some follow up posts that might help if you still need clarification on this:
 Don’t Tell Me Why–by Janice Hardy
Show, Don’t Tell–by Grammar Girl
In Six Seconds–by Chuck Palahnuik 


Repetition in Writing- a writing exercise

I started out the day with a fun writing exercise that helps with repetition and learning to use it for effect. For me, I usually balk from repeating a word too many times. If you’re like me, you scour your paragraphs for repeated words and do word searches for writing-tics (particular favorites of mine are “moment”, “slip, and “jerk”). But today, rather than flee from the dreaded repeated word, try embracing it! This exercise takes only a few minutes, so I highly suggest giving it a shot! I’m reading the wonderful book The Writer’s Portable Mentor by Priscilla long, where I found this exercise.

  • Before you start, here are two helpful hints:
  1. When repeating words, three is the magic number.
  2. After you first use the word, repeat it again as soon as possible, even if it’s immediately after!

This exercise has two parts.

First, set your stopwatch for five minutes. Write about a person or setting (try using something that could geared toward your current WIP!) using hot-words, words that seem to fizzle or zing when you say them–crackle, slick, zipper are all great words.  After you finish writing, circle your hot-words and pick your favorite of the bunch.

Second, set your stopwatch for ten minutes. In this round, use your favorite hot-word as often as you can, at the very least repeat it once on every line. Not once per sentence, but once on every line. Sometimes, this means repeating your word two, three, or four times in one sentence. Write the full ten minutes, even if you can’t think of a single thing more to write. Your best sentences might very well be written at the nine minute mark.

Here’s an example of repeated words in a very lovely paragraph, used as an example in the Writer’s Portable Mentor:

“For now he was still stuck in this red earth country, in this red earth place, in the red sky world, far from home, far from life,  far from everything. On top of that he felt slightly worn. Slightly old now. More than slightly seasoned. And more than anything else, used up.” (Philip H. Red Eagle, Red Earth, 16-17).

What are some of your favorite writing exercises? Do you tend to avoid repeating words, or do you embrace it?

 

Two Years Ago, Yesterday

Yesterday passed, uneventfully.

Last year, Dad send me flowers.

The year before that, I was in the hospital from a car accident.

Yesterday was any day. No one mentioned the accident, no one thought about it except for me, but I think of it every day so that wasn’t unique. I only realized it was November 30th when I was already an hour into my drive to work. I considered posting the short story I wrote with the vague memories I have, but it didn’t seem important.

Today, I realized that next year, even I may not think of it. That would be nice.

I hope you all had an uneventful yesterday. That it passed and you won’t ever think of it again, or if it was eventful, it was because you got ‘the call’ and you’ll celebrate it forever on.

Happy December 1st :)

Aaand the Definitions Are…

  1. Alacrity: eager and enthusiastic willingness
  2. Hackneyed: rendered trite or commonplace by frequent usage
  3. Specious: seeming true, but actually being fallacious; misleadingly attractive; plausible but false
  4. Garrulous: given to much talking, tediously chatty
  5. Trenchant: sharply perceptive; keen; penetrating
  6. Obfuscate: to deliberately obscure; to make confusing

Clearly, I need to start studying the dictionary and quit relying on Google to do the work for me :)

Do You Know These Words?

I read a tweet yesterday that said something to the effect of, “Open a dictionary, even if you know the word,” which reminded me of studying for the GRE. While studying for the Verbal section, I read over the Hit Parade (a compilation of vocabulary words that are frequently tested on the GRE) and was surprised by how many I did not know.  Now, I knew the words, but not the actual dictionary version of the word.

My point?  Maybe whoever wrote that tweet yesterday had it right.  Maybe, as writers, we need to refer to our dictionaries more often to make sure we know what we’re writing about.

I’ve randomly picked six of the words from the Hit Parade.  I’m going to post them below and then will post the definitions tomorrow.  Come back to see if you got them right!  And NO cheating! haha :)

  1. Alacrity
  2. Hackneyed
  3. Specious
  4. Garrulous
  5. Trenchant
  6. Obfuscate