I’ve been rereading some of my earlier writings, and doing so lets me see all the mistakes I made. But it also shows me how far I have progressed in my writing since then. I mainly write fan fiction, and for what I’ve written I have a nice little following of faithful readers. They have enjoyed my stories to this point, so my writing was never totally bad. But now it does have more depth, and some former mistakes have been corrected.
In my very earliest stories, I had a tendency to ‘just write’. The story line itself was entertaining, but the execution left much to be desired. I would string a paragraph with dialogue from more than one person, making it difficult to follow conversations. That was a big issue that I’ve since fixed. More recently, there are three problems that have stood out: leading into dialogue without using a speaking verb (He nodded, “I agree.”); repeated overuse of what a friend described to me as ‘weasel words’, in my case ‘a bit’ (nothing wrong with that phrase in and of itself but excessive use is just lazy – there are many more ways to get the idea across); and the last thing, which is maybe the biggest problem, has been in ‘telling, not showing’. For that last one, sometimes that works, and is even appropriate, and the story might even be entertaining in spite of it. But taking the time to unfold the story with ‘showing’ makes so much difference. For instance,
She was annoyed by his rudeness.
Hands on hips, she scowled at him. “Are you always so rude?”
Same idea in both lines, but you ‘see’ so much more of what is happening in the second. You’re more likely to feel her annoyance than simply understand that it exists because I told you it did.
‘Showing not telling’ is playing a big part in the story I am currently working on. The easy, lazy way is to tell you what someone thinks or feels. It is far more difficult to demonstrate it on the page through their actions. I still won’t waste a lot of time describing what someone is wearing, or even a great deal of time describing what they look like, unless those details are pertinent to the story. But now I do try to find the ‘visual’ of the story far more than before, and already I can see how much better that makes my stories.
If you have the same problem(s), try to be aware of them and make corrections. Too many ‘weasel words’? Ferret them out! If you notice you use a given phrase repeatedly, do a search for it to see just how often it appears in your story – you may be shocked. Then look more closely to see if the phrase can be eliminated entirely, or if there is another better/different way to express the idea.
If you string multiple dialogues into a single paragraph, try breaking them out – every time there is a new speaker there should be a new paragraph. It will amaze you how much clearer and easier it is to read.
And if you find yourself ‘telling but not showing’, re-examine what you’ve written. See if there are ways you can show the reader that someone is annoyed, unhappy, agitated, fearful. If someone screams, their eyes bulging at a given sight, and then they turn and bolt down the street as fast as they can, I’ll understand that they are terrified. You won’t need to tell me.