Write Prose Like the Pros: Show and Tell

There are a few ways for a writer to show more in their prose. One option is to describe a character’s action versus telling the reader about their emotions. It’s easy to see that someone is angry based on their behavior. To say they’re angry and move on is a lack of creativity. Mentioning any emotions outside of dialogue is unnecessary. The easiest way I’ve been able to show more is by adding more dialogue to my narratives. I try to have my characters tell the story instead of the narrator.

I have an advantage over other writers when it comes to writing dialogue. I studied theatre for my undergraduate degree. I’ve read many plays and scripts. I am already comfortable with the idea of telling an entire story with only dialogue. This also gives me an advantage on how authentic the dialogue sounds. Whether for playscripts or novels, dialogue must be spoken aloud when revising. Sometimes a phrase doesn’t sound genuine once it’s said aloud. Also, if a character is said to be not well educated, using legal terms or other big words would be out of character. Writing great dialogue requires practice like everything else.

For my undergraduate minor, I studied creative writing. One exercise I did for a fiction writing class was to eve’s drop on a conversation and transcribe the dialogue. The instructor suggested recording the audio then writing it later. We were to study how people spoke in a normal, casual conversation. Then we were to compare that with dialogue we had written and look for differences. The goal was to write genuine, authentic dialogue. I encourage others to try this exercise. Then they should ask themselves, “Does this sound the way people actually talk?” Deciding how a character talks is another part of character development. 

People say things differently depending on where they grew up. In the Northern United States, when referring to soft drinks, people might call it ‘pop’ or ‘soda.’ Maybe even ‘soda pop.’ In the Southern United States, most soft drinks regardless of brand are called ‘coke.’ This is not true of everyone from these regions. So, does the character say ‘trashcan’ or ‘waste basket?’ Would that person say ‘dinner’ or would they say ‘supper?’ All this doesn’t have to be figured out when writing the first draft. Many of these little things are worked out and cleaned up in editing.

The best place to learn how to improve one’s writing is with Renni Browne and Dave King’s “Self-Editing for Fiction Writers: How to Edit Yourself into Print.” If I were teaching a class on fiction writing, this is the book I would use as the course textbook.

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