The Day Packed A Whallop

See what I did there in the blog title? There are lots of great pieces of advice for new writers. Two of the best pointers I heard early on went hand in hand. First, show, don’t tell. Second, active, not passive. Both feed into the heart of every story’s core: character. Characters don’t happen to a story, a story happens to a character. Telling the story of how your character reacts is passive, showing their story unfold is active, thus engaging for readers. One of my tricks to know I’m getting it right is paying attention to the use of one word: was. It’s a subtle but powerful test: She was cocking the gun. She cocked the gun. Which version grabs you? They both essentially say the same thing but the second version shows an action as it takes place. Removing “was” puts the reader in the character’s shoes and creates tension. “Was” keeps the action – thus the reader – at arm’s length. Showing your characters act/react reveals their nature. It’s like meeting someone you befriend over time. You learn who the person is through your experiences with them. They can tell you they prefer beignets to donuts but it’s more interesting to see their annoyance at the multitude of decisions when faced with donuts. Cake, raised, or old fashioned? Glazed with just sugar, just chocolate or both? This bakery vs that chain store? Hear the person complain about a donut’s the lack of density and too much sugar. Then watch their relief at finding a shop that sells traditional, New Orleans-style beignets. Listen to them order, “One please.” See the way their eyes close as they take the first bite. Did you notice how many times I used “was” in that last paragraph? Do you have any tricks to help strengthen your story telling? 

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