Show, Don’t tell.

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.”

― Anton Chekhov

Don’t tell, show. In my opinion this is the most vital and difficult technique for a writer to master.

First, let’s see the difference between telling and showing. We have this sentence: John is a good father. “Telling” just relies on information: John is a good father. “Showing” in the other hand, relies on mental images : John put the story book in the drawer.  He kissed his son goodnight and closed the light. See the difference?

Now, let’s examine  why “showing” is, usualy, better.

1. It creates mental pictures for the reader. It is a more “vivid,” or “cinematic”  way to describe a piece of prose.

2. It forces the reader to become involved in the story and bond with the characters. Although when writing we are using just words, there are five other senses that are involved. As a reader, I prefer not to just read information in a passive way but to see and feel what the character sees and interacts with.

At university, my teacher said to us: “do not throw information at the reader/viewer (for screenwriters), but show it to them. That is the key difference between a good book/movie and a bad one”. I can confirm that this is true.

I have an example from a fantasy book I ‘ve read recently. (I won’t tell the name of the book).

The reason I prefer unedited, sloppy even, first drafts.

“Every first draft is perfect because all the first draft has to do is exist. It’s perfect in its existence. The only way it could be imperfect would be to NOT exist.”
― Jane Smiley

I admit it, I love my first drafts. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that editing is crucial for a book’s success. As a reader I want to read an edited and proofread book, not a sloppy draft. In other words, I want to read a complete book. As a writer, though, I prefer drafts. The draft is the purest form of the story. You can see where the writer struggled the most, where he was overwhelmed by his thoughts and his feelings were unfiltered from grammar rules, the plot or his editor. First drafts are like a rough diamond. Ugly but also pure. In the editing you change pretty much the whole book. Although I believe that an edited book is better than the draft and more shiny, some of its magic is lost. When you write a draft you get your hands dirty in order to put your thoughts down on paper.

As Jennifer Egan said: The bottom line is that I like my first drafts to be blind, unconscious, messy efforts; that’s what gets me the best material.

It’s a messy but also  fun process. The writer is eager to move his story forwards and I want to read and feel his impatience.  If I could describe the process of writing and editing a book, it would be like that: a writer writes a book with his heart and edits it with his mind. What do you believe?

10 inspirational writing tips from famous writers.

Personally, I believe that the most important trait of every good writer is hard work. Writing is like riding a bike. If you’re not pedaling, eventually you will fall. It’s like a marathon, you have to keep going until you reach your goal. You may never make it, but at least you will know that you tried. These are inspirational and motivating tips that keep me writing.

Here you can technical tips that can help you become a better writer.

1. “Don’t forget – no one else sees the world the way you do, so no one else can tell the stories you have to tell.” -Charles de lint

This reminds me that I am unique. The only one who can tell the stories I to have to tell is me.

2.“You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” – Jack London

3. “You write your first draft with your heart and you re-write with your head. The first key to writing is to write, not to think.”
-Sean Connery

4. “All great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning.”  – Albert Camus

This reminds me not to give up from the first effort nor to dismiss an idea that, at the beginning, sounds silly.

5.“Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere.”
-Anne Lamott

This means that it is perfectly normal to, well, suck at the beginning. It makes me feel good.

The Art of Simple Writing.

“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”

― Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums

The purpose of every book is to be read. Yes, of every book. If you leave it on the shelf to collect dust, then it’s pretty much dead. A story is alive when there is someone to read it, so if we want to keep our book alive, we should keep the reader hooked to our story, thirsty to learn what happens next. There is a tendency for authors to use pompous expressions and ornate words to display their knowledge. This shows incompetence on the part of the author in being concise and expressing his thoughts in the best possible way.

Feelings usually do not require elaborate words and complex metaphors to be expressed. Love, sorrow, hatred, joy: with four words the writer can perfectly describe the emotional state of a character. It’s not the actual words that touch the reader’s heart, but rather the meaning of them. The right words are simple, they are those that sneak inside you and gradually unfold their meaning as you progress in the story. Do not fool yourself. It is much harder to get a complex meaning across with simple words and few paragraphs than to spread yourself thin in trying to write reams of pages of ornate, complicated language.

Hans Hofman said.  “The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.”

What would you prefer? To put your knowledge on display through complicated expressions and redundant details and force your reader to skip whole pages because they don’t understand what you’re writing, or to use simple words that together form a complex but understandable meaning? And the best part is that the readers will forge a bond with the character exactly because they can understand him. Simple is beautiful and, as a writer and reader, I try to keep it simple. The words, that is, not the meanings.

Do your characters have a will of their own?

Imagine the following situation. Today you have the day off and you have plans to go on a trip. It’s 2 o’ clock and any minute now your kid will come back from school. You have been packing, just the essentials, and then the phone rings. With a shirt draped over your shoulder, you pick up the phone. It’s your wife and she tells you that she wants a divorce. In the blink of an eye, your whole life changes. Your wife will leave you and you will see your kid only on weekends. What would you do?

For starters, let’s define free will as: the apparent human ability to make choices that are not externally determined[1].

I will give the character above a name and a personality. His name is Jim. He is easy-going, not very brave, he loves his wife and kid and he is shy. Pretty much your average Joe. Based on his personality, what would he have done in the situation above? My story needs a brave hero who will eventually win back his wife. Can I force him to do that? I don’t want another character, I love Jim just the way he is. Through the course of the story he will change –it’s inevitable– but he will still be the same person: Jim. What do I do if my story needs a brave man and not … you know, Jim?

This is a very common problem for a writer. Plot VS. Character. We will talk about this conflict in another post.

Let’s put Jim through a test. We are halfway in the book and a month after Jim’s divorce: He sits in a bar, a bit drunk. His feelings for his wife are still strong and he’s lost his kid too. A woman approaches. They talk and, eventually, she suggests going to her place.

Is there a story inside you?

“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.”

― Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

If you are a writer, consider this for a moment. Why am I a writer? What do I want to achieve? Fame? Money? Do I want to entertain people or to just earn enough money for the rent? All these reasons are acceptable but they are not the real ones .

I will speak only for myself. Simply put, it is the urge to tell a story. When a thousand thoughts consume me and I’m bursting at the seams with ideas, I sit in front of my computer and write. I want to express my thoughts, my feelings and my troubles through a story. I want to see through the eyes of another person, one who lives in another world, who does different things but, at the end of the day, we are still one and the same . We share the same emotions, the same troubles and we see the world from the same perspective. Eventually, I get attached to this character and my only reason to write is to tell his (or her)  story.

It doesn’t matter if you are a writer or a reader. The question is the same: why do you write or read a story? Maybe there is something untold deep inside you that you need to explore. Possibly, there is a story that needs to be told, by you or someone else.

10 simple but very effective steps to become a better writer (Part 1).

So, you want to be a better writer. My friend, you are in the right place. I will publish soon the second part of this guide but until then be patient and follow the next steps. Let’s get started.

1: Empower your imagination.

Imagination is the most valuable tool in your toolbox. Contrary to what people may say, you are not born with a certain capacity for imagination. It needs work to flourish. This was my teacher’s first and most valuable advice. If you want to be creative, you have to empower your imagination. There are many ways to do that.

Nothing is normal for a writer. You will write about different worlds, complex characters, unexpected situations etc. A door mustn’t be just a door for you. No one wants to read about a door. The things that are happening behind that door are important. If you open it, what would you see? Another world? An intruder? Something even more interesting? This is up to you. There are no limits to your imagination.

Think of a tree. Is it just a tree? Maybe it is a home, or a portal to a different dimension. Maybe this sounds silly to you, but when your character is in need of a solution, this method will be your savior. So, create many short stories based on that method. You will need those stories to pop up to your mind when you’re writing your book. This way, you can be original and keep your story interesting. Your goal for now must be to do this exercise for the next two weeks. Breathe life into the things around you, see the world through the eyes of your imagination. Oh, and you don’t need drugs to do that! Isn’t that cool?.


2: Be patient, you are not ready yet. Keep writing your ideas.

Try to be patient. You have a lot to do before you start writing your book. I know, I know all you want to do is grab a piece of paper and go bananas. We will get there soon. But first you need a good story. Write down every idea that springs to mind. Don’t forget. Everything that goes through your mind is a possible candidate for your next story. Work, work, work.

Example: A man is bitten by a spider and gains superpowers. This is all you need to write Spiderman

 

Bonus tip: If you want to be good at writing you need motivation. Well, if you want to be good at anything you need motivation. You must exercise every day to harness your writing skills and that is not an easy thing to do. So I want to motivate you with the following image.

Motivation-1

Do you feel motivated? It says motivation in big blue letters. Good, isn’t it? No? Maybe we need bigger letters.

Motivation-big

What about now? BIIIG letters! And they’re blue. What do you think? It says motivation. No? Well, at least I tried. Oh, wait.  I know, I know. Wait a minute…. Where did I put it? Where did I-  Aha, found it!

Dinosaur

What about now? Keep writing or you will be eaten by a bloodthirsty dinosaur. We’re talking true inspiration here. But let’s get back to business.