Show, not Tell

There are 3 rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.

Thanksgiving Exercise 5

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Devin and I think writing outside of your story really helps improve your writing. We thought we’d change up the routine this week for Thanksgiving and show our thanks to our readers by offering short exercises to improve your craft.

Thanksgiving Food Coma

Thanksgiving Food Coma

Today’s Thanksgiving Exercise is on description. Easy enough to do, right? Wrong. Description can easily turn into exposition, which is boring and dry. No one wants to read a page of exposition, especially about details in a house or in a forest that don’t even matter.

So, how do you describe without overkill? Pick the best details. This can be hard because when we write, we can sometimes see the whole thing in our heads. It’s hard to know what part of the room is the most important!

Here’s the exercise:

1. Research (yes, again). Read my posts on the science of description and how to set exposition between action. These two posts will help you with this lesson (in theory) and will inform you on what description is the best and most important for your story.

2. Create a scene where your characters are going on a journey. It doesn’t have to be through the forest, but it needs to rely on the actual process of getting from place A to place B. You can create new characters for this task to exercise your imagination or you can use a scene you have not written from your WiP that fills the requirement!

3. Prepare! This involves writing. Yes, before the actual writing. Write out the description of everything in the setting and scene exactly as you see it. Describe the color of the door handles, how dirty the grout between the tiles is, the color of the pine needles and the decaying leaves on the forest floor–every miniscule detail!

Here’s the writing part:

4. Write the scene, plugging in key details that you’ve already written down. Your task is to pick the best details that reveal the most about the scene as a whole (setting, character, tone, etc.). In any chunk of description, there shouldn’t be more than three sentences of pure description. Of course, the best way to introduce detail is to weave it between action. More importantly, description should be a part of the action; none of the describing sentences should have the ‘to be’ verb (was, are, were) in it.

This exercise should help you pick out what parts of the scene are necessary to reveal and when it’s necessary to reveal them. Good luck and feel free to post your exercises on your blogs or in the comments! I’d love to read what you come up with 🙂


Written by Jessica Lei

November 26, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Posted in Exercises

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