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So I was thinking, seeing as we are the old fogeys group, we should've accumulated some wordly wisdom by now. So I thought we could share it here, e.g. what advice has been a geshtalt moment for you and radically improved your writing? Tips and tricks for getting down a whizzbanger of a story? That sort of thing.

Cool? Righto.

So I guess I'll get things started. First off, good ol' "show don't tell" (or show then tell). I wanted to be a stroyteller when I was little, not a story shower, but eventually realised its much harder to write a good, engaging, sustainable 'tell' than to just show it. Of course, sometimes you need some quick 'tell's, to keep the pace from stalling, but yeah, nothing improves one of my draft scenes more than combing through it for the bald 'tell's and replacing them with palpable 'show's.

Second, short sentences for tense scenes, especially action scenes. Even though i'd describe it with really long sentences if I was describing it to someone else, to convey the excitement; "she did this and he did that and then this happened and..." in writing, short sentences just work so much better. narq has a perfect example of this somewhere and i just cna't find it not, but it was something like:

He lunges. She jumps back. He swipes. She ducks.

"Stand still!" he roars.

Something like that anyways. So yeah... what treasures can y'all spill then?

Oh, and: more treasure over yonder at The Gossip: :) can never have too many treasures... yes, my precious...

3/24/2010 . Edited by xenolith, 1/26/2015 #1

The 'show don't tell' thing is huge.

I didn't even know what everyone was talking about when I started on fictionpress, but a couple people pointed out to me the 'tell' parts and it was only then that I became conscious of what I was doing. It's the 'ly' verbs, isn't it? To a certain degree, I guess. Like saying (taking a leaf out of a story and criticism), 'He walked into the room quietly' when you could describe it better, the manner in which he walked, the state of the room beforehand, the narrator/reader's perception... or something.

That's how I see it, anyway. I've stopped deliberately trying to show, instead of tell, because I just plain forget, or am too lazy! But it is a good thing to be aware of.

3/25/2010 #2

show don't tell definitely.

The other one was using "said" a lot more. I used to try and find replacements for said all the time, whereas now I just use said as much as I can... sentences, I still do it, but I now catch some of them when I'm writing.


Also, learning to just write stuff, even if it isn't great, to get material on the page, and then you can go back and revise later.

3/25/2010 #3
Anise Cary

ummm you sure you want to get me started on this, I mean I do teach writing after all XD

ok so yeah the "show don't tell" is huge and while I knew how that worked I didn't have a name for it til my partner teacher said it. One way we teach it to our kids is "snapshot" in other words the description should create a picture in the reader's mind. Though this isn't to be overused as some authors do (Meyer, Rowling esp in HP4, Tolkein)

we work with kids on exploding the moment (something I forget in my own writing TG for Sophie bugging me to do that in Issue)

one piece of advice that's always stuck with me and I give to kids frequently is: when you read your work to yourself, read it aloud, so you can hear what it sounds like. I use that a lot, esp with dialogue.

3/25/2010 #4

Totally, and that worlk a treat with detecting run-on sentences (reading aloud that is). I had to read some stuff aloud for a writing group, and wow, it certainly brought home every single run-on I had!

3/25/2010 #5

oh yeah, and the said thing is so true, eh? i can remember specifically being told in primary school not to use said, and it was the most terrible advice ever. still took me awhile to be brave enough to try for 'said' domination

3/25/2010 #6

Ugh, I've always had a problem with run-ons and (I'll point it out because if I don't, sophie will) still do. Best advice i can give is to make as many sentences as possible and still have it make sense.

3/25/2010 #7
Anise Cary

In HS in creative writing my stories all came back covered in red ROWC (Run-on with comma) yeah you know what I did instead? just ask Sophie she can tell you, I damn near stopped using commas altogether UGH. Run-ons are still the bane of my existence, well my writing existence.

as for said, I do tell my kids to stretch themselves and try some other words, or simply leave some dialogue untagged if it's clear who's speaking. Nothing bothers me more though than reading a kid's book and seeing said after someone has asked a question (when I read them to my son I change it to say asked bc it bugs me so bad)

3/25/2010 #8

Okay, don't shoot me, but what's a run-on sentence specifically? Just too long without a comma, or too many commas or...

I need to take a creative writing course lol.

3/25/2010 #9

yeah, im starting to think i really ought to too. lucky Em.

hail wiki:

"A run-on sentence is a sentence in which two or more independent clauses (that is, complete sentences) are joined without appropriate punctuation or conjunction. An example of a run-on is a comma splice, in which two independent clauses are joined with a comma without an accompanying coordinating conjunction.[1][2] Some grammarians exclude comma splices from the definition of a run-on sentence[3], though this does not imply that such usage is acceptable." i'm gonna look for a tolstoy example now...

3/26/2010 #10

Ok, they second line of 'Resurrection' (the first is only mildly shorter):

"The sun shone warm, the grass, wherever it had not been scraped away, revived and showed and showed green not only on the narrow strips of lawn on the boulevards but between the paving stones as well, and the birches, the poplars, and the wild cheery-trees were unfolding their sticky, fragrant leaves, and the swelling buds were bursting on the lime trees; the jackdaws, the sparrows and the pigeons were cheerfully getting their nests ready for the spring, and the flies, warmed by the sunshine, buzzed gaily along the walls."

yes, that's all one sentence. And he uses two adverbs. And he uses passive verbs. But it works. To me it does, anyway, because Tolstoy has such a lovely narrative voice, its like you can hear him saying this, like the narrator in the Fox and The Hound or something XD

3/26/2010 #11

Ok, now that is a sentence.

I don't mind them so much when it's in a context like that, describing nature or something. But I get the two sentences thing. Thanks, Sophie!

3/26/2010 #12

Oh and said, that's a good one too. Said is great! I don't know how or why I got discouraged from using it, but now I love said. Sometimes, when you avoid it too much the other things you put in there as a replacement seem too obvious, or werid, or just don't fit.

3/26/2010 . Edited 3/26/2010 #13

so true.

One thing that kind of bothers me, and I'm not sure that it should, is the influence of TV and film on writing? I mean, the book is almost always better than the film for a reason. film shows you a story, puts you in another world, but writing puts you in that character, their thoughts their smells their pain... both are fantastic at what they do... so whats my gripe? My gripe is, I sometimes find myself writing or envisaging a story as if its on a screen, rather than building the entire sensation of the scene. i find this disturbing because i dont set out to do this; i love how imaginative and twisty writing can be, and i don't want to get blinkered into a predomiantly visual style. That said, we are a visual species and film and tv are hugely popular partly because it plays to our strengths. cross pollination should be a good thing... being drowned in one kind of pollen is not?

Does anyone else find tv/film devices/techniques in writing good/bad?

3/26/2010 #14

I've never really thought of it that way.

The book is always better than the movie, maybe because it's your own version of it, rather than someone else's. I don't think there's anything wrong with a strong visual scene, I guess it makes it easier to read and get immersed into. I was actually thinking about something along these lines the other day. I read The Maltese Falcon (that's Bogart a-la Sam Spade in my av) and I was shocked at how easy it was to get into. I've never read a hard-boiled detective novel before. But it's like, there's no thoughts, no emotion, just actions, appearances and talking. Lots of talking. It was like reading a movie in my head.

So far as what you're saying goes, I think that's a strongly visual narrative. And I like how you put this:

building the entire sensation of the scene.

There's no sensation in that book. But it works! So it all depends on what you want to write, I think. It's good for fast-paced action, maybe not so much for character development and style.

3/27/2010 #15

Books and Movies engage me in different ways, but I do find when I write I approach it in a very visual way, imagining the camera panning shots and so on. I think I need to get away from that for some scenes, but I think it works well if you're going for an action scene, or something else which is very visual.

3/29/2010 #16

I was shocked at how easy it was to get into. I've never read a hard-boiled detective novel before. But it's like, there's no thoughts, no emotion, just actions, appearances and talking

stupid computer sent before i wanted to. :( anyway.

I totally agree, In reading I love that style. not more than other styles, sure, but its super effective. you're not being spoon fed every detail and you cope. you use your imagination, and read more into each word/action. it still feels like a cop out to try and write like that though. hmm, maybe its jut horses for courses.

3/29/2010 . Edited 3/29/2010 #17
Anise Cary

My biggest problem (just ask Sophie) besides forgetting commas XD, is not giving enough info to allow the reader to picture what's going on. I see it in my head but getting it on paper or in the pc is something I just don't naturally do. It's kind of odd actually bc I usually see a story play in my head as a scene over and over again b4 I commit it to words.

3/29/2010 #18

Hey, Em, something just occurred to me! Well, it occurred to me a while ago, but it just occurred to me to ask you about it.

Have you ever taken any form of Martial Arts/Yoga/Meditation exercises?

3/31/2010 #19

Have you ever taken any form of Martial Arts/Yoga/Meditation exercises?

Uuuummm, nope except maybe meditation exercises, but only when I was really young and went camping with my grandparents because my Grandma was into that sort of stuff. But she would send us out into the woods with our trinkets (mine was always a nature whistle and a notepad and pen) and then she would make us sit in our favorite places and do meditation stuff and then I would write. But I never wrote anything good, it was just about my day, and riddled with spelling errors.! :D I've taken palates... My aunt does Yoga and she seems to like it a lot but I'm not very flexible (I can't touch my toes when standing up, it's very pathetic, XD) but yeah anyways so only sort of half-way and not anymore :D

Now that you mention it though I bet it would be really cool to learn basic Martial Arts, plus it would really help maybe write close combat scenes better in a story.... *ponders* 10 year old cousin (aunt who does Yoga) did Ty-kwan-do (don't know how to spell it :S)............but that's not going to help me. XD

3/31/2010 #20

Heh, you know what i was getting at XD. I did Karate when I was 6-10. Because I was so young all the motions became second nature and muscle memory is powerful. But, I digress...

Anyway, yeah taking a basic martial arts class (and I'm not talking about one of those crappy self defense seminars at the local YMCA or something) should help you with the close quarters combat scenes as you'll be more familiar with the types of movements.

If you had a choice, I'd recommend either Karate or Krav Maga (they hail from Japan and Israel respectively). Karate is an efficient method of fighting that focuses on technique, self-discipline and taking your opponent using as little energy as possible. Krav Maga is a very dirty style taught to both the US and Israeli special forces and is designed around common situations you might find yourself in (e.g. bar fights, street fights and the like).

I wouldn't recommend TKD though, its more... Let's go with flashy and ego-building than many of the other arts and while its great for self-defense, confidence building and impressing people, when it really comes down to it, it tends to be found lacking against well-trained opponents using other arts.

Regardless of what you do, it WILL help with your combat scenes.

3/31/2010 #21

Regardless of what you do, it WILL help with your combat scenes.

You know, now that I mention it, my best friends husband does a ton of close combat training stuff just in his free time as a hobby. He goes to the gym every day too O_O But he knows how to disarm people, ect. and took some sort of Russian fighting interest in the past few years that he practices once a week--I don't know what it's called though, I think it's a combonation of a lot of different stuff.

But anyway, yeah, I should ask him...I never thought eyes are open!

All I know about is running on a treadmill for about an hour, staring at a TV, XD

4/1/2010 #22

Okay, I personally know absolutely NOTHING about martial arts - I've done a handful of beginner classes for various things, and the most enjoyable was Capoeria - which I stopped going to because there was always this mock fight bit at the end, which was amazing, but I was too uncertain to enjoy joining in. Co-ordination issues + mock-fighting = someone getting hurt ¬_¬

However, I do remember a very interesting segment on the making of Batman Begins documentary. They used a particular type of fighting style (can't for the life of me remember what it's called) but it's a style you learn so that, if you need to, you can hurt people, and physically outwit them (remember the Liam Neeson quote during the training session with Bale? "This is not a dance!" *headbutt* - that quote just about sums up the sentiment of the style :P)

It's been about two years since I saw the documentary, so it's all pretty fuzzy, but the segment was pretty informative. It might be worth checking out...

4/6/2010 #23


4/6/2010 #24

Nope - that's way too defensive (but has some very useful techniques)

According to wikipedia, it's this:

Keysi Fighting Method. It's a pretty new style.

4/6/2010 #25

its essentially a less-aggressive, less-fatal version of Krav maga

4/6/2010 #26
Anise Cary

ok I'm giggling here bc the most recent new Simpsons epi I saw had Bart using Karate and an Israeli girl fighting him using Krav maga. Of course she beat the crap out of him LOL

4/6/2010 #27

in mrav maga they basically START the fight with an eye gouge or groin kick

I prefer muay thai though, its just more fun to use

4/6/2010 #28

Now I wish I knew more about close range fighting.

Thank god I'm at a lull period in INSIWB. I just don't have the motivation to do the proper research at the moment. -_-

4/6/2010 #29

Hey so where's this advice you were on about, Em? :)

4/7/2010 #30
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