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How to Rework Your Story to Get More Show and Less Tell

Get More Show and Less Tell

There are ways to rework your stories so that you can minimize telling and maximize showing. The biggest telling offense is perhaps the overuse of descriptive adjectives and adverbs.

Adjectives and adverbs often tell the reader what to feel or how to interpret the story instead of evoking a feeling or an interpretation. While adjectives may seem to add color and movement and insight to a scene or description, they are often simply a lazy way to write. This is especially true of descriptive adjectives like beautiful and kind and nice!

One solution to this problem is not especially difficult. Replace at least half of your descriptive adjectives and adverbs with settings, dialogue, and actions. You’ll get more show and less tell when you do.

Yes, half. That’s 50%.

Here are examples of how to convert adjectives and adverbs into more effective writing so you get more show and less tell:

Action: She said angrily might become she said, picking up the mail and
tearing it into shreds.

Setting: We were poor might become In the living room, the linoleum rug was ripped along the edges and black streak marks showed where the boards beneath were uneven.

Dialogue: She was passive-aggressive might become She said, “I’m not angry. I
haven’t given it a second thought, you bastard.”

Whenever I present this option in a workshop, someone says, “But you tell us all the time to be more concise in our writing. In fact, you have the 10% rule that we need to eliminate that much from our text before we turn it out on the world. Here you are adding text! What gives?”

They’re just different rules. The reworking I’m suggesting here does not produce a shorter more economical text. In fact, it usually results in a longer text. Length is not its goal. More evocative writing is.

Replacing 50% of your descriptive adjectives with dialog and action produces a more impactful text.

Try it and see if you don’t like the results.

Exercise

Go through a lifestory that you have already written and which you consider to be finished. Underline all the adjectives and adverbs in this story. Replace at least half of these with action, setting, and dialogue.

Doesn’t this exercise make you appreciate the need to linger, to keep your stories from premature conclusion?

 

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