Sentences 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?


Blog Hop! Twitter Dialogue.

I got this nifty little idea from Writer’s Digest. Writing dialogue is hard. There really isn’t any other way to put it. It’s necessary to cut down on character’s speech (keeping out the use of words, such as: So, Um, Uh, Like, Well) because even though it’s how we talk, it definitely doesn’t mean we should write that way.

This is a great tool for learning how to tighten dialogue and it’s going to make for a fun blog hop.

The goal is to write a scene using only dialogue and everything has to be written Twitter style: only 140 characters per dialogue entry. Your post can be as long or short, funny or serious as you’d like. There are no rules other than keeping dialogue to 140 characters. Have your post up by Thursday night and add the link to your post to the linky-link below. The winner will be chosen based on creativity and strength of dialogue, and will win a $10 gift card to Amazon.

Start with a theme: I have a prince who is trying to steal the gold from a dragon.

Add characters: @ConnivingPrince, @PrettyPrincess, @DangerousDragon,

And have fun!

@PrettyPrincess: I’m pretty.

@ConnivingPrince: Stop fluffing your dress. It’s poofy enough. You’re getting pink glitter everywhere.

@PrettyPrincess: It makes me prettier.

@ConivingPrince: Your prettiness has nothing to do with your tastiness. We need the dragon to eat you, not stare at you.


@ConnivingPrince: Pouting won’t do any good.

@PrettyPrincess: …

@ConnivingPrince: Either will batting your eyelashes. Besides, I like brunettes, not blonds.

@PrettyPrincess: My golden locks are much prettier than dirty-water colored hair.

@ConnivingPrince: Let’s hope the dragon thinks so.

@PrettyPrincess: I don’t know why I agreed to this. After I’m eaten, I won’t be pretty anymore and I do like being pretty.

@ConnivingPrince: You agreed to it because while the dragon eats you, I can steal his gold.

@PrettyPrincess: That doesn’t make any sense!

@ConnivingPrince: Too late. We’re already here.

@DangerousDragon: ROARRRRR!

@PrettyPrincess: I don’t want to be eaten!

@ConnivingPrince: I want that gold!

@DangerousDragon: Roar?

@PrettyPrincess: You’re a rather cute dragon, aren’t you?

@ConnivingPrince: Eat her! Eat her you stupid dragon!

@DangerousDragon: Grrr, hiss.

@PrettyPrincess: Don’t be mean to him.

@ConnivingPrince: I’ll be mean to whomever I’d like, stupid, ugly girl.

@PrettyPrincess: I am not ugly.

@ConnivingPrince: You’re hideous

@DangerousDragon: Snort.

@ConnivingPrince: No, that’s my arm! Blood? Is that my blood? All I wanted was the gooooold…

@DangerousDragon: Gulp.

@PrettyPrincess: What a sweet dragon you are.

@DangerousDragon: Purrr.

@PrettyPrincess: Yes, I think I’m pretty, too. Thank you very much.

Sentence Sundays! Words!

Yes, I know it’s Saturday night and not Sunday, but tomorrow I start the drive from Mississippi to Minnesota to go visit my family. I can’t tell you guys how ridiculously excited I am. 🙂

So, here’s your sentence Sunday post a night early, and it’s all on words, specifically word variation.

I admit, varying words is not easy. But honestly, does your reader really notice if you’ve used the word cacophony twice in one book? Umm, yes! At least I do.

But what this post is really about is insuring you vary how you begin a sentence.

Here’s an example of a paragraph I wrote tonight:

Twisting on my toes, I look back to Kira, her blond hair brittle in the morning sun. My shoulders sag and I turn to look over the expanse of desert we are traveling across. I shuffle forward, continuing to walk up the small mound of dirt that has formed into a hill.

But what if I had written it like:

I twist on my toes, looking back to Kira, her blond hair brittle in the morning sun. I sag my shoulders, turning back to look over the expanse of desert we are traveling across. I shuffle forward, continuing to walk up the small mound of dirt that has formed into a hill.

Every sentence here begins the same way, always beginning with the word I (yes, the format is the same, but I don’t know what you call those sentences so I’m not messing with that part). Isn’t the first example more interesting? The reader isn’t punched in the face by an ‘I’ character, someone completely all about me, me, me.

If you find yourself beginning several sentences in a row with the same word: he, she, I, my, change it. Those words begin to grate on your reader and your writing will become boring as there are no surprises, and as we all know, surprises are a great thing 🙂

Sentence Sunday! Punctuating Dialogue

I’ve learned over the past months that I do not punctuate dialogue correctly and I’ve noticed it’s an easy thing for people to mix up.  So, today’s lesson is on punctuating dialogue.  Aren’t you excited?!

The main source of confusion is comma versus period and when to capitalize letters.

Capitalize vs Not Capitalize

“Piglet! Stop chewing on that book!” yelled Juliana.

Here, the y on yelled is not capitalized because yelled is a continuation of the sentence ‘Stop chewing on that book.’ A good way to look at it is to read it as a whole sentence, Stop chewing on that book, yelled Cale.

“Piglet! Stop chewing on that book!” The binding on the book frayed as Piglet sunk her teeth into the thick paper.

In this example, the T on The is capitalized because a new sentence is beginning. ‘Stop chewing on that book’ is separate from ‘The binding on the book…’

The book frayed as Piglet sunk her teeth into the thick paper. “Piglet! Stop chewing on that book!” Running toward her dog, Juliana curled her fingers over the soggy, torn cover of Nevada Barr’s book, Blind Descent, and realized she would have to buy a new copy.

Each of these sentences are complete on their own and so all start with a capitalized letter.

Juliana yelled, “Stop chewing on that book!”

And here, the letter S on Stop is capitalized even though it is a continuation of the sentence ‘Juliana yelled’ because it is the start of dialogue.  The beginning word in dialogue is always capitalized.

Comma vs Period

“Piglet! Stop chewing on that book,” yelled Juliana.

The first time I used this example I had an exclamation point, but here I’ve changed it to a comma.  I would not use a period because ‘yelled Juliana’ is not a sentence of its own, as I said before, it’s a continuation of ‘Stop chewing on that book.’ The comma is used to connect the tag to the dialogue.

The book frayed as Piglet sunk her teeth into the thick paper. “Piglet! Stop chewing on that book.” Running toward her dog, Juliana curled her fingers over the soggy, torn cover of Nevada Barr’s, Blind Descent, and realized she would have to buy a new copy.

Just as before, all of these are new sentences and so use periods and not commas.

“I hope,” said Juliana, “that my book tasted good, Piglet.”

‘Said Juliana’ is set off by commas because it interrupts the dialogue and is not a separate sentence of its own.

Alright, there are a few examples and explainations for you.  If you think of any I’ve missed, add them in the comments section 🙂