Or, you’ve written too much, at least.
If you have ever taken a creative writing course or read generic writing advice online, you know good writing involves a lot of showing and not very much telling.
This, as you can probably guess, is one of those habits we learn early on in our writing journeys and have to gradually wean ourselves off of. It’s a bad habit, and we’re here to help you start to break it.
The habit: telling the reader everything
When we’re first starting out as writers, our primary focus is usually figuring out how to communicate an idea as clearly as we possibly can. It’s a fear, almost, that we’ll end up writing things no one else understands. So we end up over-explaining … and doing a lot of telling in the process.
Details aren’t necessarily unimportant or unnecessary. But think of that friend you have who can’t tell a story without going over every single detail of everything that happened leading up to the tale’s climax. Isn’t it much more fun when you can start to guess what might happen next without him or her having to spell it out for you?
What’s so bad about it?
Part of the “fun” of reading is analyzing and even discussing different interpretations of the same story. Good stories are intriguing because they keep you guessing, which also means they don’t tell you every single detail as the story progresses.
You’ve heard of showing instead of telling, but really it’s about gradually revealing new pieces of information the deeper the reader dives into the story. Exposition is often necessary, but in small amounts and at carefully spaced intervals. Don’t overdo it.
Also, you have to give your readers a little more credit. They are smarter than you think. Don’t insult their intelligence by giving them the answer to the riddle before they have a chance to solve it for themselves.
How to break the habit
Leave things up to interpretation and save the big revelations for later. Imply that your MC used to love music by having her stumble upon an old guitar in the attic, instead of spelling out, “She used to love music, but gave it up a long time ago.” Which one seems like the better choice to you?
Paint a picture with the physical signs of emotion instead of only sharing a character’s emotional state. Instead of saying someone is sad, spin a web of (reasonable) description. She felt her heart slowly begin to crumble, her throat closing as if irritated by rejection.
Train yourself to limit inner dialogue: practice writing a short story from the point of view of a narrator who can only comment on what is happening in a story but is not omniscient (the narrator cannot share the inner thoughts of multiple characters).
These kinds of habits are actually pretty easy to break once you put better habits in their place. If this is a habit you want to work on getting rid of, you’re not alone. Showing a reader what you mean without explaining it in detail is a hard thing to do at first. You will get used to it in time.
Do you have a bad writing habit you hope to break someday? Share it with us – maybe we can help!
Image courtesy of Image Catalog/flickr.com.