It is the most overstated and the least heeded words in the writing industry—Show don’t tell. Why??? Might three question marks ask? Because it is among the top reasons writers receive a rejection for a story. In order to better understand the issues here are some of the top ways to notice possible problems in your story.
- When was the last time you had dialogue? Many “SDT” problems can be avoided by fixing the pacing with little spurts of character dialogue. Perhaps your cyberspace ninja gets an IM from a friend in the middle of his climatic battle with the Phisher!
- Look who’s talking now! Just because your story is about feminist zombies from Planet M doesn’t mean someone else can’t voice their opinion on animal cruelty—or in less crazy person English—have someone other than the main character add something to the story. This can help keep the story from getting one sided and allows for discussion of your protagonist’s view point without just telling us.
- Don’t get so technical with me alright! Giving information to your reader is important. Arguably the whole job of the writer, however the kind of information you give in different ways is. Laying out how the space ship goes into hyperspace may be cool but the reader probably isn’t reading 8,000 words about it if your story is about finding true love.
- What can you afford to lose? I find that most stories (even good ones) can afford to lose 30% of their word count. This isn’t always right obviously but rereading your story and cutting the unneeded bits could be the difference between losing or gaining a contract. Ask yourself “do I need this line of text?” and then edit edit edit!
- What is the point again? If there is anything in a story that doesn’t advance the plot or increase our understanding of the character (or entertain us) it is dead weight. Move the plot or lose it. This is especially true of flash fiction—you don’t have more than maybe ten words to capture the attention of the reader (so don’t waste them).
These are not the be-all-end-all tips for avoiding “SDT” mistakes/issues/problems/boring story element/stylistic problems, however they have helped me and so I hope they can help you. There is no One Way to Success that so many self-help writing books offer. So don’t be afraid to try new stlyes out.
As a closing word of advice read your own story. You have to please your audience starting with yourself. A writer’s best crictic is usually sitting in their chair.