As a writer I often attend conferences where I hear the phrase, “Show not Tell”. Okay… What the heck does that mean? It means that in writing you want to have your reader be a part of the action, not just listen to the action. You want the scenes to leap off the page with high action verbs and active voice—keeping the characters in motion versus conveying the impression to the reader that they are sitting around the campfire being told a bedtime story. Showing means action; telling means boring.
There are some words that will enable you to recognize when you are falling into that trap. Tightening up your sentences to avoid the use of these words will really clean up your manuscript and make it more publishing-ready. Here is a list of words to try to avoid using:
Pay particular attention to the word was. It can be changed in most cases. For example:
The dog was barking – sounds better as -The dog barked.
He felt the pain in his chest – sounds better as – His chest constricted with pain.
He saw the man about to stab the girl – sounds better as – Witnessing the man thrusting the knife at the girl, he reacted.
My pet peeve is the word “then”. As an editor I cringe every time I see that word, particularly at the beginning of the sentence. Please, for all editors out there, avoid using the word “then.” For example:
He rode to the store. Then he went to the drycleaner – sounds better as – A trip to the drycleaner followed his visit to the store (or – His visit to the store preceded a trip to the drycleaners.).
Just some tips to look for as you are editing your own manuscript. If you do editing for others, please feel free to add your thoughts, or if you are a writer and want to give an example of a sentence you are having trouble with, we will all pitch in and help.
Copyright 2014 by Kelly Abell