Eliminate “telling” words and phrases. These are words like thought, felt, saw, heard, wondered, decided, realized, and phrases like was sure and was determined. All of these words and phrases distance the reader from the POV character, because the author is intruding on the story, telling what the character is experiencing. Instead of “He heard a gunshot,” try “A shot rang through the air.” Instead of “She felt sick,” try “Nausea churned in her gut.” Instead of “She was determined not to fall for him again,” try “No way was she going to fall for that dark charm again.”
Try to describe emotions rather than naming them. This isn’t to say that you will never name an emotion, but showing the character feeling and acting is much more powerful. Abstract words don’t evoke emotion. When describing an emotion, consider its physical effects on the body, the actions and behaviors of someone experiencing it, and thoughts in keeping with that particular emotion.
Try to eliminate dialogue tags as much as possible. By their very nature, dialogue tags (he said, she whispered, etc.) are “telling.” Action and emotion beats show the reader not only who is speaking but also what that character is thinking, feeling and doing. Instead of “talking heads,” we have real flesh-and-blood characters. In the following snippet of conversation from Trust My Heart, the action and emotion beats give the reader insight into the characters that simple tags wouldn’t.
Incorporate sensory details. Showing what a character is seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and feeling is one of the most effective ways to immerse a reader into a scene. Choose two or three vivid details, but make sure they are things the character would reasonably notice at that time. Here is the beginning of a scene from Hidden Identity that incorporates the senses of sight and hearing.
I fear accountability.
There, I’ve said it. I need it; but I avoid it. But it hasn’t always been so.
Early in my time at Bethel College (Indiana), I was invited to join a group called the Writers’ Accountability Network (WAN). Members of WAN began each month by sharing their goals for the next four weeks. At the end of that time, we all reported on our success—and where we didn’t quite measure up. In between, we encouraged each other.
I’ve never completed so much writing! In fact, while a member of that group I wrote the first draft of my novel.
As I took on more responsibilities professionally—a good thing—I soon found myself over-committed—a bad thing—and left the group.
I’ve worked on the novel sporadically since then, never with the intensity and commitment of those days.
So I’ve learned something: I need accountability to be productive. As Proverbs 27:17 tells us: “In the same way that iron sharpens iron, a person sharpens the character of his friend.” (The Voice). That was the benefit WAN provided.
I need to make changes. I need to embrace, again, the power of being a good sheep. Here’s how I do it. Maybe it will help you.
The biblical idea of Jesus as our shepherd and us as His sheep has always resonated with me. I have sheepy tendencies. In WAN, we were all sheep within the same pen. The fences (goal-setting, accountability, encouragement, and reporting) helped us be good sheep together.
These are the fences I need to build now to get back some of that accountability.
- Fence 1—Television: I can’t give up it up entirely, but I can cut back by at least an hour or two a week. (Can’t give up Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy—that’s good writer TV!)
- Fence 2—Social media: It’s time to wrestle my e-mail, Facebook, and Twitter addictions to the ground. There’s an important place for social media, but too much of any good thing can be a problem.
- Fence 3—Mornings: While in WAN I got up early to write for an hour before reporting to my job—and it worked. I completed the first draft. I’m not sure that will work with the job I have now, but how can I repair this hole in my fence?
- Fence 4—Accountability: This is the gate to my sheep pen. I need writing partners, other sheep, who will make sure I do what I say I’m going to do—and who’ll cut me no slack when I don’t.
Speaking of accountability: Who are you accountable to? What is your favorite accountability tool?
Michael Ehret has accepted God’s invitation and is a freelance editor at WritingOnTheFineLine.com. In addition, he’s worked as editor-in-chief of the ACFW Journal at American Christian
Fiction Writers. He pays the bills as a
marketing communications writer and sharpened his writing and editing skills as a reporter for The Indianapolis
News and The Indianapolis Star.
by Carrie Stuart Parks
Slaying Dragons. Your protagonist must face the bad guy. I recently read a suspense/thriller where the protagonist was rescued from the villain. That’s a weak resolution, and I threw the book across the room. The protagonist must defeat his/her own dragons.
Hero. Your protagonist must be a hero, not just someone that gets beat up. Add the first two ideas together and you’ll find the bones of a great story. The reverse: defeated protagonist who has to be rescued is an unsatisfying novel.
Action. If something doesn’t move the story forward, delete it or rewrite it so it does. You can’t stop and smell the roses in a novel—you’ll lose your readers. Descriptions, backstory, setting and so on must always be propelling the novel forward.
Proactive. You really want the protagonist to figure out who the villain is, not wait for the villain to reveal himself. Your protagonist needs to be proactive.
Elastic mind. The first book I labored over for six plus years had originally had a murder in the third chapter. Frank said to have the murder in the first chapter. What? I had no idea how to do this. I worked and worked, finally moving the body to chapter two. Nope. Frank wanted it in chapter one, preferably on page one. Be elastic in your thinking about your story.
Nothing in stone. Frank didn’t teach me this by telling, but by showing (a little writer’s humor…okay, so very little humor.) Print out your working novel on recycled paper. I remember he gave me something in writing that was printed out on the back of one of his stories. OOOoooooohhh! Aren’t his words written in stone and sacred? Nope. Anything you write can be re-written. There are other, and probably better ways to say something. This is an application of tip five-elastic thinking.
In a thrilling race against time, When Death Draws Near plunges us into cold-case murders, shady politics, and a den of venomous suspects.