Saturday, April 01, 2006

Writer's Workshop - Showing, not Telling

Today I went to a real writing workshop. Hey, if I'm going to do this, might as well get some instruction from a Real Writer, right? It was done by Chris Eboch, a published author of numerous products including children's books. Her goal was to help us become better "show-ers" as we write descriptions, action, emotion, everything. For the writers out there, here were some of her tips.

  1. Showing uses data from the five senses. Telling uses interpretive data. (e.g. showing = "his face was flaming red" and telling = "he was angry")
  2. Be specific in your nouns and adjectives for better description. (e.g. "he was built like a linebacker" instead of "he was big")
  3. Make your similes and metaphors as original as possible. One technique is to relate your metaphor to your story. (e.g. if food figures large in your story, use food metaphors - "his skin was like a lemon peel")
  4. For intense action scenes, slow down the writing, draw it out moment by moment to increase the tension. Using short paragraphs can give a sense of speed while you're doing this.
  5. For each detail you're considering using in your writing, ask yourself:
  • Does it make the story more believable?
  • Does it help readers picture or understand a character or place better?
  • Does it answer questions that readers might want answered?
  • Does it distract from the action?
  • Could it be removed without confusing readers or weakening the story?
If the answers are yes, yes, yes, no and no, you have a good detail.

She had us do a number of quick writing exercises, where she'd give us a task and we had three minutes to write, then we'd share and comment. This was tough! Good practice, though. For your entertainment, here are a couple samples.

Instruction: Write about an alcohol beverage from the point of view of an alcoholic.

Peg's effort: "Congratulations!" they all yelled as the cork exploded out of the bottle. Angus alone was silent, transfixed by the bubbling cascade that foamed golden over Marty's wrist and puddled on the tablecloth. He moved closer, his nostrils flaring as he inhaled the call of liquid magic. Closer, and he unconsciously reached a finger out to caress the dampened linen. Closer, and finally he thrust his glass into the stream.

Instruction: Write about the same beverage from the point of view of someone who drank too much of it the night before.

Peg's effort: "Ohhh. Turn off the light!" moaned Shirley, rolling away from the window. "Eeyew- shit!" Her voice was louder now as she sat up suddenly, wiping old vomit off her cheek. "Oww, my head!"

Jack regarded this episode with a smirk. Rising from his stool, he grabbed a half-empty bottle of champagne from the coffee table and waved it under Shirley's face. "Here! Hair of the dog!"

Shirley paled, lurched, and vomited afresh.

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