Show vs Tell: Action Prose

by | Jul 24, 2017 | Show Vs Tell |

Where narrative prose is used to describe things, action prose is used to describe motion.

Please don’t confuse the two, for they are very, very different.

When you are describing motion, you have to approach the written text with a completely different mindset as opposed to simply describing a room. This approach is multi-layered, so let’s start at the beginning, and work our way through.

Action Prose

Where narrative prose is used to describe things, action prose is used to describe motion.

Please don’t confuse the two, for they are very, very different.

When you are describing motion, you have to approach the written text with a completely different mindset as opposed to simply describing a room. This approach is multi-layered, so let’s start at the beginning, and work our way through.

One – Use Stronger Verbs

The heart and soul of every sentence is its verb. Please don’t take these little guys for granted. Writing in the English language is a wonderful thing, we have twenty different words that all mean the same damn thing, but each evoke a slightly different emotional reaction from the reader. Take for example:

John hit the wall.

A reader can read this and in their mind’s eye see the character John hitting a wall. You can see it, right? Well, what if instead I wrote: John struck the wall. Or: John bashed the wall. Do you see the same motion in your head as you read each of these sentences? Of course not. Hitting, striking, and bashing all evoke different emotional reactions to what is being read. Keep this in mind as you craft every single one of your sentences, and your readers will thank you for it.

Two – Avoid Bland Linking Verbs

As I mentioned in the last post, if you can turn the sentence into a math equation, you are telling. While you can occasionally get away with this in narrative prose, once you move into the exciting world of action prose, bland linking verbs should be culled out at all cost. The biggest culprits are: Was, Were, Has, Had, Are, Is, Feel, and Felt. Do a find for these little buggers and highlight them. Then attack them with a vengeance, looking for ways to eradicate them from your manuscript.

John felt excruciating pain as the knife slid into his side.

Blah! Math! John = feeling pain. Look for other ways to do this that will eliminate the word “felt”.

Three – Stop Using Thinking Verbs

To add to the word-choice woes of a writer, you must also keep in mind that you need to avoid thinking verbs in your action prose. Think, Know, Believes, Wants, Desires, Understands, Realizes, Remembers, Imagines, Loves, Hates. The list goes on, but these are some of the bigger offenders. This is a hard obstacle for many new writers to overcome, but if you can avoid these words, especially in your action prose, it will make a dramatic difference.

Four – Use Active, Not Passive Voice Sentences.

Passiveness has no place in action prose. Make sure your action prose is consistently written in active voice. (This is a big topic all on its own, and I will do a Blog post soon on this topic.)

Five – Avoid telling the reader how to react

If you ever use words like: Unexpectedly, Suddenly, Abruptly, Surprisingly, Without Warning, etc., you are telling the reader how to react. In other words, you are not a strong enough writer to write something the reader isn’t expecting, so you just ask them politely to do your job for you.

The monster bared its fangs. Fear ran up John’s spine, but he was only an inch from the safety of his panic room. And since I have no idea how to shock you with an unexpected turn of events, my dear reader, please do my job for me and be shocked because suddenly, and without warning, the monster lunged at John.

The above may seem silly, but it is what you are doing every time you write a word that tells the reader how to react to your story.

Master these five things, and your Action Prose will benefit on every page.

Hate me yet? Good.

 

Leave your questions in the comments!