Descriptive Phrases

We all hear so much about Showing vs. Telling, and there are no better or more concise examples than those found in song lyrics.

Think about it. You have 3 – 4 minutes to tell an entire story. There is no time for wasted words. Then, top that with the fact that things have to rhyme and have a rhythm, and you can see that songwriting is no easy task.

Tom T. Hall is known as “The Storyteller.” So, it seemed fitting that I look at his work for a good example. Here’s one:

He was an old-time cowboy, don’t you understand
His eyes were sharp as razor blades his face was leather tan
His toes were pointed inward from a-hangin’ on a horse
He was an old philosopher, of course
He was so thin I swear you could have used him for a whip
He had to drink a beer to keep his britches on his hips (Wow! Now there’s a visual!)
It gives us a pretty clear picture, doesn’t it? I tried to find an image that matched what I saw in my head and couldn’t. These boots came close.
cowboy-boots-975113_960_720
Want to hear the whole song? Here’s the YouTube Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnvMcX95G20 
Another prolific writer, Kris Kristofferson, was a genius with words. One of my favorite, “Lovin’ Her Was Easier,” tells such a tender and eloquent story.
I have seen the morning burning golden on the mountain in the skies (I can see it!) 
Aching with the feeling of the freedom of an eagle when she flies (I feel it!)
The entire song is short, but says SO much.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCgnbRWVvU8
Mountain sunrise
Or how about “The Gambler?” That’s one helluva story. The writer, Don Schlitz, was homeless and living in his car when Kenny Rogers recorded it. Needless to say, he was soon a wealthy man.
On a warm summer’s evening, on a train bound for nowhere
I met up with the Gambler, we were both too tired to sleep…
Haven’t heard it in a while? Here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7hx4gdlfamo
Another very expressive writer and performer that has emerged on the scene is Chris Stapleton. Take at look at these lyrics.
There’s a bottle on the dresser by your ring
And it’s empty, so right now I don’t feel a thing
I’ll be hurting when I wake up on the floor
But I’ll be over it by noon
That’s the difference between whiskey and you
What do you think? Can you feel the ache, the agony, the desperation? Want to give it a listen? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2uPKDXS8BA
But, this song written by Hank Williams Sr., may be the most descriptive. It is exactly 2 minutes and 32 seconds long, but tells such a sad lonely story.
Did you ever see a night so slow
As time goes draggin’ by
The moon just went behind the clouds
To hide its face and cry
The silence of a falling star
Lights up a purple sky
And as I wonder where you are
I’m so lonesome I could cry…
There are SO many songs out there that are extraordinary examples of descriptive writing with only a handful of words. As authors, we can learn from these songwriters
How about you? What are some of your favorites and why do they touch you?

 

Show vs. Tell #RRBC #RWISA

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything related to the craft of writing and this is a subject that we all can use a refresher on. So, if it’s redundant, I apologize. I still see this over and over again, especially with Indie writers. So, for what it’s worth, here we go.

Don't Tell me

If you wonder how can I show something, ask yourself; how do I notice she is quick, he is happy, it is big?

  • Don’t tell me the story…show me, using your words.
  • Place the reader INTO the story. This is especially important in first person POV—but also equally important in third.
  • Use the senses to bring the reader along for the ride. Sight, Sound, Touch, Taste, Smell.
  • Be specific and creative.

For example…One might describe a love interest this way. This is Telling:

  • I watched Jack walk into the room. He was hot; maybe the best looking boy I’d ever seen.

Rewriting the scene by using specificity and the senses, here’s showing:

  • Jack didn’t walk into the cafeteria. He swaggered like the Mayor of Westfield High School, as he shook hands and slapped shoulders. If there had been a baby somewhere, he would have kissed it. Normally, that sort of attitude makes my stomach turn, but not today. I couldn’t take my eyes off him. He even nodded at the lunch ladies. When he got to my table, our eyes met for the briefest of moments, and I felt like the only girl in the world.

You can add character detail, voice, and setting at the same time. This is showing.

  1. USE DETAILS (NO – It was a spooky house. YES – The house had dark windows, a doorway covered in cobwebs and an overgrown path leading up to it.)
  2. SIGNS YOU ARE TELLING – Adjectives – big, old, high  etc. and any form of the words “to be.” (She was happy. He was impatient. )
  3. USE NOUNS AND VERBS – Nouns and Verbs FORCE you to describe. (NO – He was a grumpy man. (Adjective) YES – He rarely talked and when he saw kids playing, he let out a grunt.)
  4. USE SENSES – (NO – It was a lush garden. YES – The garden bloomed with wild red and orange flowers that filled the air with a thick sweet fragrance.)
  5. DIALOGUE LINES ARE ALWAYS SHOWING – It’s the character talking, not the author.
  6. BE CAREFUL WITH DIALOGUE TAGS; THEY OFTEN TELL – It’s better to express the way the character is talking with body language. (NO – …she said jokingly. YES – …she laughed and slapped his arm.)

You don’t need to show absolutely everything, especially if it’s not important to move the plot forward. You risk the danger of being too lengthy or detailed. For example, NO three-page descriptions of the woods.

“Telling” is often used to move the action along quickly or relate necessary backstory.

However, you run the risk of “info dump” if you tell all the backstory this way.

When you “show,” you put the reader in the driver’s seat and let them “feel” the scene, emotion or action.

Use a combination of the two, to amp up your storytelling!

Tips

  1. Imagine a movie scene in your head. Write all the detail that you see. No “floating” heads of dialogue—be sure to describe where people are standing, what their hands are doing, noises in the room, where they are. Activate ALL the senses.
  2. Use Action Verbs to “show” what’s happening.
  3. Avoid using “was,” “is,” “are,” – All “To Be” words. This is Passive Voice.
  4. Consider investing in “The Emotion Thesaurus” by Angela Ackerman, AND “Emotional Beats – How to Convert Your Writing into Palpable Feelings,” by Nicholas Rossis to get a sense of how physical movement conveys emotion.

You can write your first draft by telling if that’s what you need to do to get the story down, but ramp up all the feels in your story by showing through your subsequent drafts.

Happy Writing! Happy SHOWING!

show vs tell_Mark_Twain