Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

storm moving across a field
June 20, 2011

Writing a Deeper Story

By Laura Drake

Writers in the Storm is kicking off the summer with a series of guest blogs and we are so excited!

First in our Summer Line-up is social media guru, Kristen Lamb. Not only is she the author of two best-selling books, We Are Not Alone–The Writer’s Guide to Social Media and Are You There, Blog? It’s Me, Writer , she is an amazing teacher.

You can find Kristen at http://warriorwriters.wordpress.com (or here at Writers In The Storm next Friday) but I warn you...her blogs are highly addictive!

Now - on to the subject of the day --

One of the most difficult aspects of craft I’ve struggled to master is “Show don’t tell.”  Yes, I know, this has been covered in a hundred blogs.  But I think the reason it’s discussed so often is because there’s so much to it. It’s an onion; you have to peel back layers of complexity to get to the nuances that you find in great fiction.


The first layer, I discovered when someone told me I was using weak verbs. Passive, ‘To be’ verbs like: was, were, has, are, etc. They add nothing to the sentence, and tell the reader not much more.

Tom wants to be a policeman.

Is better as:

Tom wants to work as a policeman.

“Work” is more active than “be.”

Piece of cake. I did a “find” for passive verbs and replaced them with active ones. I dusted my hands and put another notch in my writer-tool belt.

But wait. There was another layer below that.

I found you could use body language, or Dialogue cues to show instead of tell.

So : “I’ll have you arrested for trespass.” She said angrily.

Becomes:  “I’ll have you arrested for trespass.” She crossed her arms over her chest and wished looks really could kill.

In both, we understand that she’s angry, but the second engages the reader’s brain – they ‘see’ that the woman is mad.  It taps into an emotion everyone has experienced, so the reader feels a part of the action. As Browne and King state in Self-Editing for Fiction Writers, the first engages your intellect. The second engages your emotions.

Wow. That’s powerful. I was done.

But wait. There’s more.

There’s a phrase I heard years ago, “Don’t show me the soldier; show me the photo in his pocket.” (sorry, I can’t find who it is attributed to.) I think it’s stuck with me over the years because it embodies ‘show, don’t tell.’

You can tell us all day about the tired soldier. You can explain, describe, and make us see it.  But have him pull out a photo like this, and just stare at it, and the reader not only gets it, they feel it; the emotional punch to the gut that you so love reading.

That’s my current task; to engage the reader at a deeper level. To grab them at page one and pull them forward, following my character on the emotional roller-coaster that doesn’t release them until the end of the book.

What layers do you know that I have yet to discover?  I’d love to hear them.

0 comments on “Writing a Deeper Story”

  1. I've always hated onions. 🙂 I think I'm in such a rush to get to the next step that I don't take the time to peel. I need to really think about how the character is feeling and then get it on the page with the dialogue. Thanks for the great post.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Janis. You and I have the exact same problem. It's not that I don't think I should have to edit, but I never think it should take THAT long!
      I know, I know, my crit group is smiling as they read this...they beat me over the head about having "premature submission" issues.

  2. This is JUST what I needed today because I'm combing through my second book, trying to make it the best it can possibly be. I just finished one of Kristen's online courses and one of Margie Lamb's as well, so I'm deleting passivity (or trying to at least) and you gave me more helpful hints.
    Off I go!
    Thank you.

  3. I absolutely loved your post. It emanates exactly what writers need to acheive; create a vivid picture of their characters' lives so readers can feel the emotions jumping off the page.

    Thanks for that!

    Joy Shaw

    ~Your reflection reveals merely a fragment of what you can emote.~

  4. Onions make me cry so I don't like cooking them (though I love eating them). The question is how you'll show the photo in the shoulder's pocket.

Subscribe to WITS

Recent Posts





Copyright © 2024 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved