from Zero to Writer

from Zero to Writer

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Composing Effective Prose: Part 3

Don't tell me… SHOW me!

“Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” — Anton Chekhov

Let’s all agree that the subject of "show vs. tell" deserves its own blog post, its own book, its own billboard. Plenty of people have done just that (well, probably not in billboard form), so I’ll keep it simple.

The root of all telling comes from an excess of emotional adjectives that fail to transport the reader into the intended experience. Instead, the writer should provoke emotion through character reactions and vivid prose. Don’t simply tell the reader how to feel.

C.S. Lewis says it better than I ever could.

“It’s no use telling us that something was ‘mysterious’ or ‘loathsome’ or ‘awe-inspiring’ or ‘voluptuous.’ By direct description, by metaphor or simile, by secretly evoking powerful associations, by offering the right stimuli to our nerves (in the right degree and the right order), and by the very beat and vowel-melody and length and brevity of your sentences, you must bring it about that we, we readers, not you, exclaim ‘how mysterious!’ or “loathsome’ or whatever it is. Let me taste for myself, and you’ll have no need to tell me how I should react.”

Telling forces a reader to watch the slideshow of your vacation while you narrate. Showing invites the reader along as you travel.

-       Use well placed details to bring scenes to life.

o   “The dressing room was dark and dirty” becomes “A tube of lipstick rolled from the sticky dresser, disappearing into the shadows where dust bunnies congregated in hordes.”
o   “The house looked old” becomes “Paint peeled from the doorframe, wood splintered near the rusty door knob, and the hinges shrieked when awakened as if the house were yawing from a century of sleep.”

-       Evoke powerful associations
o   “My hair was so dry, I couldn’t stand it” becomes “As I ran hair gel through my hair, the brittle strands broke like a dehydrated leaves in autumn.”

-       Use expressive dialogue rather than telling the reader how something is said.
o   “Why did you do that?” she asked, defeated   becomes   “Why would you do such a thing?” she asked, hanging her head.

When you are starting out as a writer, you will find that having a Critique Partner is vital in the assistance of finding and fixing these. Sometimes we don’t see the spinach stuck in our own tooth until someone points it out. It is also vital that you give your writing space and time between revisions. Looking at your work with fresh eyes will help these suckers jump out so you can fix them.


Take each sentence below and show what is happening:

“This was a historic vote”
“It was the most romantic moment of her life”
“The smell was terrible”

Now, go! Tackle that telling. You can do it!

This has been another "'No Post on Sundays' Post"

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Composing Effective Prose: Part 2

Writing in an Active Voice

Have you ever read your original draft, and you’re driven through the action purely because you remember how interesting you intended it to be? Have you ever had a beta reader or critique partner snooze through a scene you thought was jam packed with action, and you’re left dumbfounded that they put the book down? The culprit could be in your conveyance. So, how can you make your writing more active?

Simple! Fix your use of verbs and adjectives… and assassinate those adverbs.

Take your prose from this... this…

Don’t Wimp out with Filter Words

To see
To realize
To hear
To watch
To decide
To think
To look
To sound (or sound like)
To touch
To seem
To know
To wonder
To feel (or feel like)

She felt a ringing in her ear = Her ear rang
They realized it was midnight = The clock struck midnight
He wondered what lurked in the darkness = What lurked beyond the shadows?

Watch out for these, as well:


He has a plan to = He plans to
The team had ten losses = The team lost ten games
An accident occurred that damaged my car = That teenager busted my Audi

For a more in depth look at filter words, and when they are appropriate, check out Susan Dennard’s post here

Simplify and Clarify Actions

Come to an agreement to = Agree
Is not in a position to = Cannot
Is prepared to inform you = Will tell you
It has come to our attention = We notice
An effort is being made = We are trying
The woman was being ogled by the guy who was snipping the other guy’s hair = The barber couldn’t keep his eyes off of his client’s wife.

Prepositional Phrases

Be careful with your prepositional phrases. There are often worthier verbs within the prepositional phrases, eager to erupt!

To be of the opinion of = to believe
To be indicative of = to indicate
To put in an appearance = to appear
To take into consideration = to consider
To be in possession of = to own
To study in depth = to examine


“You may truly, madly, deeply love adverbs, but don’t ever drag one in to prop up a wimpy verb.” Constance Hale, “Sin & Syntax.”

He ran very quickly = He darted
She was utterly scared = She was horrified
The woman voiced aloud her concerns = The woman voiced her concerns
You rudely criticized me = You insulted me

And, just like that, you're prose is moving!

Check out these delicious links!

and these…

This has been another "'No Post on Sundays' Post"

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Composing Effective Prose: Part 1

Everyone ready for a "'No Post on Sundays' Post?"

Composing Effective Prose

Part 1: Having a Penchant for Nouns

The key to crafting effective prose, by way of selecting appropriate nouns, is in the use of simple words to create compounded ideas, not decorative words to describe simple ones. Be clean while making space for meaning. In your writing, don’t just load up on adjectives. Paint a picture and define details with nouns.

Below are my simple Dos and Don’ts of choosing nouns.

DO Use Words with Concise Sound Bites

Make the words do the singing. “Buzz, yodel, fizzle, flop, whir, hissy fit, frolic, velvet, fortune, revolt.”

Slang can be also colorful and full of gumption. Choose words that are appropriate for the subject, audience, and forum.

DON’T Use Drab Nouns

Apartment = Yes
Abode = Yuck
Fever = Yes
Raised temperature = Really?

DO Prefer One to the Other

Straightforward over Highfaluting
Precise over Lengthy
Classic over Idiosyncratic
Distinct over Broad/Vague
Particular over Abstract

Revise when the noun used is safe, standard, or vague.

DON’T Default to Clichés

Barf. Clichés are lazy. Avert your eyes against these and many more:
At my wits end
Level playing field
Plain as day
          Last-ditch effort
 As luck would have it
 Easier said than done

For an extensive list of clichés to avoid like the plague, visit...

DON’T Use 5 Words When 1 Will Do

“Voters showed a great deal of interest in the electoral process this year” vs. “Citizens voted in droves.”

Whenever you have a choice, write plainly, not arrogantly. Unless you speak arrogantly, in which case, use and embrace your authentic voice. Be yourself. Just remember who your audience is.

 DO Avoid Balderdash

Don’t write a puzzle for the reader. Loading up on extraneous words and ideas will weigh down your prose.

Thirty calendar days = a month
Over accelerated diesel locomotive goes off the tracks = high-speed train derails
Capitalized cost reductions = down payments

DON’T Stress

Remember that the first draft is for getting ideas down. Don't stress each word as you lay the foundation for your manuscript. However, when you practice careful noun selection, you will begin choosing the correct words the first time around.

Stay Tuned for Parts 2-5 of this Series & Try These Additional Materials

And please, please, please read “Sin and Syntax” by Constance Hale.