Elements of Craft

Tell, Don't Show

The first rule of writing is show, don't tell. But let's face it -- if we showed everything, our novels would run tens of thousands of pages -- and readers would die of exhaustion. So what do we do? We must decide what information the reader needs. Just because we know everything about our characters and just because we spent weeks researching, it isn't necessary to share everything we know with our reader. We must choose only the details we need to authenticate our story and omit everything else.

NARRATIVE is telling what happens. This is useful when the acting out of the story (by dialogue and action) does nothing to further our understanding of the characters or plot.

EXPOSITION is explaining why something happened or gives background information.

One of the most difficult and most crucial elements in story-telling is knowing when to give play-by-play action and when to back off and summarize. Play with this. If a scene doesn't hold your interest, maybe it is better to summarize it in a sentence or two and go on to something more important. However, if it is a pivotal scene in the plot or critical to our understanding how our character reacts in a given situation, go for it. Give us action, give us dialogue, and let us experience and savor every single moment of it.

Want more great tips and techniques? Our Inspiration for Writers Tips and Techniques Workbook is now available for immediate download. Expanded tips, more topics, reproducible worksheets, exercises to practice what you learn and much more--check it out!

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