Nuance: How To Write Effectively With The Show Don't Tell Technique!


Nuance: How To Write Effectively With The Show Don't Tell Technique!



"We Are What We Believe We Are" CS Lewis

I'm a Scorpio.

A very typical Scorpio at that. I'm fiercely loyal, I'm obsessional, I notice a lot I just don't talk a lot, I'm ambitious, secretive, and passionate. I'm also all the negative things…but let's not dwell on those!!!

But the one thing I love most about being a Scorpio is the rawness of perception and uncanny ability to see past the superficial.

I've always been fascinated by behaviour. Mostly behaviours that are sometimes so hidden even we don't know they exist. Probably why I chose to study psychology and work in forensic mental health. I love getting to really know someone through much more than just conversation, it's the eyes that do it.

But how does it work in the literary world?

What is a nuance and how can I write it effectively?

This is something that I'm struggling to put down on paper. People are more than just their words and actions. We come to life through glances, habits and nuances that are so very small they're almost imperceptible. If you really look at someone when they're talking to you, if you listen to what they're saying rather than just waiting for your turn to talk it opens up a whole different conversation. One that can divulge a lot more about the person than they're outwardly projecting.

My protagonist, Gracey, has an adversary. And as you can expect from a love story, this adversary flips between nemesis and love interest…more than once!! As per, I expect… Thing is, he is much more 'human' than he makes out. He puts up a front and Gracey knows this. What she wants to do is be with the man she knows he is, not the man he's pretending to be. What I'm finding hard is showing the reader this, rather than telling them - major faux pas. I need to show that in her heart she can see through his front, even if she can't say it to others.

It's the feeling of not quite being able to put your finger on it, but knowing it's happening. How do you describe that look in someone's eyes? Or more pointedly, how do you describe that look in someone's eyes through the eyes of someone who knows the person they're looking at isn't being true to themselves? It's difficult enough just trying to say it in a sentence that makes sense, let alone showing it?

I know that through more practise it'll come. But I want to be able to depict it as subtly as it happens in real life!!!

Here are a few quick tips that will help:


  1. Get rid of sensory words: Heard, saw, felt, smelt... these are all weak words. What are they actually bringing to the writing? They tell the reader what is happening but they don't let the reader experience what is happening. For example: I heard footsteps behind me and I felt scared. Instead go for: Footsteps crunched on the gravel behind me, they sent a shiver down my back and I felt the prickling of the tiny hairs on my neck as they stood to attention. 
  2. Try not to write emotional words as a description: Instead focus on how the emotions portray themselves physically. For example: I was so excited to see my love. Instead go for: My heart raced as I saw my love, my lips couldn't help but curl into an uncontrollable smile.
  3. Describe body language: If you use rich descriptions of body language instead of telling the reader what the person is feeling, this is far more engaging. For example: She was sad when I had to leave. Instead go for: I noticed her eyes drop to the floor and her shoulders slump as I left the room. 
  4. Practise. Practise. Practise: As with anything. You can't expect to be great at it immediately. So practise in everyday life. Imagine how you would describe your friends reactions to you. Imagine how you would write this. Then actually write it. It doesn't have to be a lot. Just a few words. The more you do it the easier it becomes. 

Of course there are many, many more ways to write the subtleties of the human, these are just a few to get you started. 



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