Show, Don’t Tell

“In descriptions of Nature, one must seize on small details, grouping them so that when the reader closes his eyes he gets a picture.” Anton Chekhov

This quote by the Russian playwright, and variations of it, became the basis for the ‘Show, don’t tell’ technique used in various kinds of storytelling. ‘Show, don’t tell’ describes writing by showing the actions, relationships and feelings instead of just telling the reader what happened. It allows the reader to experience the story through action, words, thoughts, senses, and feelings, describing the scene in such a way that the reader can draw his or her own conclusions.

So what can you do to implement ‘show, don’t tell’ in your writing?

  • Use the character’s five senses.
  • Use strong verbs.
  • Avoid adverbs.
  • Be specific.
  • Use dialogue.
  • Focus on actions and reactions.

This technique applies equally to nonfiction and fiction, including poetry, speech, film and plays and public speaking. Think about how you can show your audience what you want to share with them; and by doing so, you will keep a captivated audience that will stick with you to the end.

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Learn How To Take Criticism

When you set out to write, one of the best things for you to learn is how to take criticism. To do that, you need to listen and take notes. Hear what’s being said and understand if and how it’s applicable to not just what you’re writing, but how you write. Use the criticism to become a better writer, but be careful of the source.

Early in my career (back before everyone had computers), I was looking for a job and had sent out resumes by mail. One person sent it back, having circled all the errors. No other comments were made though. I was younger and hurt by the situation, instead of seeing it for what it was: someone with too much time on their hands.

Contrast that to when I was writing my second book. I asked my sister to read and comment on it. And she did. She had plenty to say and not all of it was good. I had to rewrite several portions of the book. But here’s the thing, I’ve been able to use her comments not just for that book, but for the subsequent ones I have written. I’ve become a better writer because of her critiques.

So be mindful of what is being said and by whom. And if the commentator is sincere, embrace the critiques and use them to better yourself and your craft.

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Everyone has a story tell. How you do so is up to you. But if you plan on writing it as memoir, here are a few tips to help you:

Define your theme. Ask yourself: What will readers take away from my story? What will they learn from reading it? Common themes include lessons about accepting change, dealing with loss, overcoming addiction, surviving abuse, impressions from an era, valuing friendships and relationships.

Look at it from a distance and put it into the shape of a story. Take time to outline your story. Use a timeline. You don’t have to start on the day of your birth. Focus on an event, or series of events, and interweave the theme through it. Leave out scenes that don’t add to the flow of the narrative.

Don’t concern yourself about other people’s feelings. Remember, you are telling your story, your truth. While you cannot slander people, you can tell your side of what happened to you.

Lastly and most importantly, if you’re taking the time to write it, take the time to learn the art of storytelling so you can tell your story well. Learn how to show and how to tell. Learn how to re-create yourself as a character. Learn how to write dialogue, plot scenes and sequels, and how to describe what happened to you. It’s a small price that will yield a high return–your audience finding themselves in your story.

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For the writer, journaling is a great way to get the creative juices flowing. It helps in the development of strong, written communication; it helps improve memory, makes learning easier and helps improve your reading skills. It also encourages the exploration of language: you’ll find the yourself searching for new words and increasing your vocabulary, which is one of the best measures of overall intelligence.

But did you know there are also psychological benefits to journaling? Regular journaling strengthens immune cells, called T-lymphocytes. Other research indicates that journaling decreases the symptoms of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis. Writing about stressful events helps you come to terms with them, thus reducing the impact of these stressors on your physical health. It helps bring out peace of mind and a calm state of being. Anne Frank wrote: I can shake off everything as I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. 

Through writing, both right-and left-brain hemispheres communicate, synthesizing information that ultimately results in greater mental coherence. Starting a journal is pretty easy, all you need is a notebook and a few ideas. There are many great books out there on the subject. You can Google writing prompts. Or you can write about your life. I promise you, it’s interesting enough to write about once you start delving into it. The key is to start. 

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Schedule Time To Write

We often say that we are too busy to write, but the truth is, we haven’t made it a priority. We don’t have to spend hours writing, or even complete a chapter a day if that’s not where you are right now. But if you are able to schedule time to write, you’ll find that you’ll make progress. Whether you’re a morning person and can get fifteen minutes in before you head to work, or you prefer to come home and spend thirty minutes on the computer after dinner, schedule time to write. Put words onto the page. They don’t have to be very good, but they do have to be there. You can edit bad writing, you can’t edit a blank page. So schedule time and start writing. 

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