Avoiding the tell-tale
How to avoid tell-tell-tell. Or in other words, how to avoid telling the story instead of showing the story.

I've been spending some of my off time reviewing chapters on AWWC. There's one thing that I believe all authors (not just new) struggle with and I am damned if I don't see it just about everywhere.

For example, I was reading a sentence that a wonderful writer had written. He wanted to change it because it sounded too tell-tell.

A sharp spike of pain stabbed him between the eyes. Numbing calmness filled his brain. One more spike knocked him away; he fell backward and landed on his rear end. He sat on the floor, bewildered.

A spike did something. Then numbness came. Another spike did something. Character fell. Then he landed on his ass. Then he sat on the floor.

So how are writers supposed to be extraordinarily cautious of this? If you have a paragraph that feels as if there is something missing or if it's plain boring, look at what your character is doing. This particular character in five sentences (including the conjoined) did a whopping "fell" and "sat". The character couldn't control either of those. So what did the character really do? Nothing. In five sentences the character has just been a dart board with shit happening to him. How. Lame.

Now don't get me wrong. Shit happens all the time to your character. That can't be helped. BUT have you ever heard of the law of something that says, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction?" Guess what you literature freaks, it's even true in writing. Everything that happens to your character, should have a reaction from that character. It seems less tell-tell. The example of the sentence above and how to have your character's reactions to what is happening (assume this character's name is Bob):

As a sharp spike of pain stabbed between his eyes, Bob clenched his jaw silently pleading for the sensation to go away. His dizzy eyes opened as he felt a numbing calmness fill his brain. Suddenly, another spike knocked him away; his hands scraped the ground as he tried to prevent himself from falling backwards. As his rough palms gave away, he found himself on the floor -- bewildered.

Is it the most beautiful sentence in the world? No. But it captures your attention. You are put in the moment, second by second, as Bob tries to figure out what is going on. It doesn't feel like you're saying This happened then this happened then this happened and you'd never believe that this happened next.

No question of the day! Going to try and find some of my work on the business computer to do Teaser Tuesday! Left the laptop at home today.

1 Response
  1. Glen Akin Says:

    That is actually good advice. And the way you used "every action has a reaction" is very true as well. For me, show-and-tell is actually a very tricky thing to accomplish - not impossible though. Writers absolutely must show and not tell, but the question I suppose is must you do it all the time? Sometimes there's an urge to just breeze through a scene by just telling and not actually showing because, if you had to show it could make your MS a little too wordy :)

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