1. Justin Rocket 2
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    Justin Rocket 2 Contributing Member

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    The secret to length

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Justin Rocket 2, Aug 27, 2015.

    No, this isn't Viagra spam or Swedish pump action crotch pumps spam
    I want to share this.

    I've always struggled with length. My stories have always been short, even when I dig deeper to develop the story so that more stuff is essential. This link has really been helpful in overcoming that.
    Their examples taking
    and turning it into
    or
    and turning it into
     
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  2. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I disagree with this a little. 1) Some of us have the opposite problem. Mine is TOO long. Which means cutting out a portion of those above examples. Strong verbs and character actions can also be used to cut length.

    "John was angry" vs "john fumed." Also, one good character action can eliminate the need for a long list of stage directions, which plagues the writing workshop here.

    2). The length of any particular passage should be used to dictate the flow of time. So, if you want to slow time, you might want to turn two lines into nine as in the last example you showed. It depends on the emotion of the scene. Certainly, I would not want to read a novel that elongates every part to the extent shown above. That would be tedious.
     
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  3. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    Descriptive passages should be appropriately tied to their importance and the pacing of time.

    Though, Pacing is something I would clean up after the first draft is written because it is often difficult to par down than it is to elaborate on events. Interjecting with thoughts of characters can also be truly jarring for the reader depending on context.

    There is something I read a long time ago, most high-school age students are all aware of pointless or poor writing. They may not know exactly how to explain or describe the awkwardness of a passage, but the ability to detect and identify problems greatly increase when the passage is read aloud. Most readers can "read aloud in their own head", but reading through your text is essential to catching mistakes. Also - make sure you come back to a passage no less than two days after writing it so that your can take a more objective look at it.

    The absolute worst thing to do is to write a passage and immediately try to "correct" its flaws. This applies to all writing, I have done some horrible prose on my research topics and learned to always return to it after clearing my head or after a good night's rest.
     
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  4. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    If you are finding your work too short, are you describing the scenes and actions fully? If it's too long are you writing excessive description that bogs the story down?

    You can tell when you are reading a book if the story needs to move on and the writer is instead going on and on about something you aren't interested in. You know when you read a book or a chapter or a passage when you can't follow what is going on because it's not well described. And you can tell when the world building is uninteresting when maybe were it a bit more fleshed out it could have been.

    Normally I get bored with too much introspection, especially if it bogs the story down. But having just finished The Winner's Curse which is full of introspection, it was critical to that story. I never once got bored by it and wanted to skip ahead in the book.

    The length of a novel is dictated by the story one is telling. If it's full of action and suspense, just make sure the scenes move the story forward. Make sure there is enough description the reader can see what's going on.

    If it's sci-fi, the world has to be interesting.

    If your story involves intricate human interactions, it probably needs a lot of introspection.

    What doesn't make sense to me is approaching one's book as a numbers game. In my opinion a better approach is to look at it as an elements game.
     
  5. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'll be reading this article, Justin. Thanks.

    I too struggle with length - in fact I started a thread recently asking for tips on how to bulk out my story because at the rate I was going, I'd've finished it in 15,000 words.
     
  6. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I can't imagine turning 15K into a novel. :p

    By the way, the article is pretty good, fits with what I've said.

     
  7. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    And that's exactly my problem. I know that the story I have is novel-length material, but like the OP I struggle with bulk.
     
  8. GingerCoffee
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    If it's a novel length story, describing the deficiency as 'bulk' is too non-specific to be of use.

    What specifically is missing from your story?
     
  9. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Scene length, maybe. My scenes are over too quickly.
     
  10. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    You're on the right track :) 'Showing' usually result in more words than 'telling'. Plus is creates more vivid images for the reader.
     
  11. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    My sentence details are usually pretty okay. Though, I know it can be a struggle being either or - too sparse or too detailed so articles like this can help. I've always been either sparse or medium. And long winded ( when I get carried away. )

    Usually I flesh out for depth.
    For instance I'm working on a prison story. I have one prisoner watching a newbie sleep. My initial response was to describe the sleeping prisoner's looks. Which I did - he's pretty & vulnerable. But then I decided I wanted to have a reaction from Ivor ( the viewer. ) So I have him recall a vandalized estate he'd bought at auction and he compares the sleeping man to one of the fallen stone statues around a polluted pool. The scene didn't just reveal the sleeping man's vulnerability but I was able to work in something about Ivor.

    Those are the details that I usually put in rather than just lengthening an action.
     
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  12. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    You know, as daft as this may sound, I've never truly understood what is meant by this.

    This is a guess, so feedback would be welcome.

    Telling: 'John opened the door.'

    Showing: 'John approached the door and grabbed the handle firmly. He twisted his hand and pulled the heavy door open.'

    Teririble example, but is this what it means?
     
  13. GingerCoffee
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    We have a couple threads on this if you're interested in searching for them but almost inevitably they end up in a contentious debate. I think that's because there are people who don't understand the concept and because the interface between showing and telling is a continuum rather than a clear line.

    This is showing, yes.
    "Showing: 'John approached the door and grabbed the handle firmly. He twisted his hand and pulled the heavy door open.'"
    But the concept goes a little further than only giving more details of what is happening.

    John struggled to get the heavy door open.​

    Now you not only show the door, but you show the action as well. The reader sees more about the situation than simply telling us what steps John took to open the door.

    It's a skill as much as it's a definition. I usually write the scene, then go back and improve the showing parts. Other people spill showing out like dumping a bag of pennies on a table. ;)
     
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  14. OurJud
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    OurJud Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks, GingerCoffee, that's a big help - never heard it explained like that before. As you say, not the clear line some may think.

    I'd have to go through my WiP and see if this is something I do naturally. Would be nice if I did, but I'm not holding my breath.
     
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  15. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    "Showing" in the sense of a writing technique, means allowing the reader to experience an event. I can think of no better example than the one in the OP's post:

    The cold wind blew against her - (telling)
    and turning it into
    Shivers ran up her arms as she braced herself against the wind. Why hadn’t she remembered a jacket? - (showing)

    At no point in the second example are we 'told' that the wind blowing against the woman is cold. Instead, we figure it out by what she does and what she thinks. What's important is that you, the reader, will feel that cold wind yourself when you read the second passage. That's because you are sharing the experience with her. You probably won't feel it when you read the first.

    When you want a reader to feel what the character is feeling (like a cold wind) then employ the 'showing' method. If you just want to get the character through a doorway, into a room where the important part of the scene actually takes place, John opened the door will work just fine. You don't need to go into a lot of detail about what the doorknob felt like, or the fact that he twisted it, pushed the door open and stepped through. Well, yes ...that's what you do when you open a door, isn't it? That's not 'showing' so much as padding. Unless the act of opening that door is important to the story, just get him through it by 'telling.' Then 'show' us what's on the other side of the door in a way that makes us laugh, cry, shiver or hide our heads under the duvet.
     
  16. Justin Rocket 2
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    You might find the Snowflake Method useful, too. It gets to the same idea, but a little more mechanically.
     
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  17. DueNorth
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    Helpful discussion--many good reminders that it is not about the length of a piece or the number of words, but about the story that we tell and how we tell it.
     
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  18. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can do even better.

    John struggled to open the door.

    It's implied the door is heavy to John.
     
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  19. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's not true if you want it to get published, apparently.
     
  20. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think "show, don't tell," puts too much emphasis on literal descriptions of feeling. There are many ways good writing can instill feeling. Literally describing every word of the event is probably the most primitive way to do it. A lot of the greats- Hemingway, Bukowski- "tell" a lot, and I have to say, it works. If you want to get wordy, there's also metaphors, similes, and tangents to lengthen time and get an image across. I'm not saying literally describing every detail of one's experience is something you should never do, but it is only one technique among many, and one I personally use mainly for buildup or for some prolonged, particularly intense scene.

    I wouldn't be able to stand a novel entirely composed of sentences like that bolded above.
     
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  21. Justin Rocket 2
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    Showing and telling both have their place. The point of the OP is to say that, if your story is saying a lot in few words, it is probably because you're telling when you should be showing. What is not the point of the OP is to say that you should never use telling.

    As for *how* to show, that's an entirely different issue. You don't have to be literal. Assume that you've established something as a significant symbol of something else (for example, your protagonist's boyfriend is symbolized by his beat up rusted ugly junker of a car that won't run and which he leaves on a car jack in her driveway). When the protagonist, infuriated, beats that junker with a crowbar, there is subtext there which makes the literal events insignificant to what is really going on. When she later discovers that the reason he has left it there is because he is distracted by having learned that his dad has terminal cancer (and the reason he hasn't gotten rid of it is all the memories of his dad he associates with it - the two of them spending late nights working on it in the garage together), her act of aggression, itself, comes to symbolize something else.
     
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  22. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    In my humble opinion, their examples unnecessarily complicate things. Sometimes simple is the way to go, and knowing when to keep things simple is an artform all writers should master.
     
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  23. GingerCoffee
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    No, because there are lots of reasons one could struggle to open a door.

    Showing does not require you scrub every adjective. It's a concept. Your post is an example of why there are frequent debates about this issue. Focusing on feelings or experiences are not what show don't tell is about.

    John had to duck under doorways that no one else did.​

    That doesn't tell you how John felt. It shows you John is tall.

    I started a while back to write a clean post on the subject, but I found the matter wasn't conducive to a black and white discussion: this is showing, that is telling.

    If instead of trying to put sentences in categories, instead of trying to make the issue about a rule, look instead at this as writing rich sentences that a reader can immerse themselves in the story with when they read them. The opposite is telling someone a story to which they passively listen, no immersion experienced.

    Show don't tell is nothing more than a critique of writing that one can see needs enriching. Once the concept is learned, the argument that it is meaningless or it isn't an important concept or that it is a rule goes away.
     
    Last edited: Aug 28, 2015
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  24. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    Which examples?
     
  25. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The ones in the OP's link.
     
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