by Annette Lyon
I didn't realize until I kept seeing the same thing cross my desk (or, um, monitor) literally dozens of times that one very common way of telling is often overlooked.
Here's the awesome news: this kind of telling is really easy to change into showing. (Easy is the kind of fix we all like, right?)
So what's the weak telling I'm talking about?
When the words THAT and IT are too vague.
Most of the time, sure, the reader will technically know what you're referring to, but if you'd just define IT or THAT, you'd be showing us rather than telling.
For example, you write:
I knew THAT hurt him.
Okay, so chances are we know, thanks to context, what THAT refers to. But what if you were to be more specific? Can you SHOW us?
Switch out THAT with what it refers to:
I knew my words hurt him.
Zing! So much more powerful.
Let's try another:
IT felt like family.
WHAT felt like family? Show us by defining IT:
Being with them felt like family.
Dinner that night felt like family.
And one more:
IT would make things easier.
WHAT would make things easier? Define IT:
Breaking off their relationship now would make things easier.
Simple yet so effective.
In rough drafts, most of us add those extra words without giving the issue much thought. No problem. But when you're going through revisions, try this: search for THIS, IT, and even THAT.
Not every instance will fall under this category, but of those that do, see how many you can replace with showing details. Be specific.
You don't want to get wordy, so there may be places where IT and THAT fit better.
But don't assume as much. Look at each case to see if defining those words with detail makes for a stronger sentence.
Trust me; it can pack a huge punch.
Wait. Try that again: Trust me; defining IT and THAT can pack a huge punch.
Yep. Much better.