The dreaded phrase
I’ve been reading a lot of writing advice lately and I’ve noticed that most columnists assume that their readers know what “show, don’t tell” means, how to fix it, and when not to fix it. We hear that phrase over and over again, but we pick up a novel or read a personal essay and we spot telling sentences in even the most respected publications. It’s confusing, right?
(If I’m the only one that is confused about it, please don’t tell me.)
Simply put, a telling sentence is a sentence without imagery. You fix a telling sentence by adding description. For instance, in the photo above, a telling sentence would be: A plant grew on a wall. It’s an accurate statement, but look at all of the interesting details it ignores. How could a reader possibly imagine the photograph from that puny little sentence? As a writer, your job is to show the reader each of the yellow spindly blossoms, the ridges in the speckled white wall, the strange cluster of branches like wires in a circuit traveling across the wall just above eye-level.
This week (and hopefully every week from here on out) dedicate one round of edits to rooting out (see what I did there?) sentences that don’t have any description. Disclaimer: As we can infer from the telling sentences we find in published writing, some telling is okay. I can think of two instances in which some telling is acceptable: in dialogue and in the rementioning of something that’s already been shown to the reader. There are more instances, for sure, but let’s just start there. Personally, I’ve found people’s measures of too much telling vary dramatically. Go with your gut, but let every telling sentence be a thoughtful choice.
ITT: Turn the following telling sentences into showing sentences: Anusha called her father. Hema made her bed. Ruby Bastille found a dime.
June Poetry Slam: Filk
On summer (or winter) vacation and looking for a new song to sing around the fire? How about a new song to an old tune? We’re combining poetry and music in this month’s slam as we teach you to write a filk song. Sure, it’s just a sneaky way to make you write a poem that rhymes and scans, but it’s also a fun way to apply everything you know about poetry and show off a little in the process! Learn more from Rowan here.
Prompt Up is our optional weekly writing prompt for the fiction|poetry challenge! Here’s how it works: we choose a sentence prompt from last week’s winning nonfiction post and announce it in the kickoff. It’s your job to use that prompt in your poem or story and then run with it. The prompt is just a springboard, though: feel free to use it as your first sentence, move it, change it, or float it down to other territories.
L.E.R.T. took us to the Himalayas in his piece One Step. This week’s prompt up taken from his essay is: “I guess I need these adrenaline fixes to counter my fears.”
How to submit and fully participate in the challenge:
Basic YeahWrite guidelines: 750 word limit; your entry can be dated no earlier than this past Sunday; fiction or poetry only.
1. In the sidebar of this week’s post, please grab the code beneath the fiction|poetry badge and paste it into the HTML view of your entry;
2. Follow the Inlinkz instructions after clicking “add your link” to upload your entry to this week’s challenge grid;
3. Your entry should appear immediately on the grid if you don’t receive an error message;
4. Please make the rounds to read all the entries in this week’s challenge; and
5. Consider turning off moderated comments and CAPTCHA on your own blog.
Submissions for this week’s challenges will close on Wednesday at 10pm ET. Voting will then open immediately thereafter and close on Thursday at 10pm ET. The winners, as always, will be celebrated on Friday.
Thank you for sharing with us your hard work! Good luck in the challenge…
About the author:
As a professional editor and writer, Nate has published his work in numerous English and history textbooks and in on-line reading programs. In February 2014, he found his way back to creative writing and began submitting to YeahWrite. Soon after, he became an editor of the Fiction|Poetry challenge. You can read his work at The Relative Cartographer, a blog that has been recognized by WordPress, Five Star Mix-tape, Genealogy á la Cart, and BlogHer’s Voice of the Year. He lives in Chicago with his partner, a French princess, and a jungle explorer.