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Once upon a time, a coach I know referred a client to me and–after reading a chapter–I almost told her I didn’t think I could help him. Lucky for both of us, I withheld judgement and agreed to edit one chapter.
When he sent me his second chapter, it blew me away. I laughed, I cried and I thanked my lucky stars I hadn’t turned him away. But what could explain the phenomenal leap in the quality of writing? I could only ask…
“I studied your feedback from chapter one and applied it. When I say I studied it, I mean I really studied it.”
So, what did Adam do exactly to go from something completely unpublishable to a blow-your-editor-away chapter? He put into action several tips, but the two main writing “secrets” he employed are not exactly secrets.
1). He made the writing come alive by showing, not telling and 2). He replaced most passive verbs with active ones.
Let’s talk about the second rule first. Instead of using “is,” “was,” “had,” “has,” etc., see if you can find a way to use a verb that has more energy. Passive verbs put readers to sleep and active verbs engage readers and enliven the writing.
Example: The chapter was boring. vs. The chapter bored me.
More energy in the second example, right? Easy fix, too.
Now, rule 1, which offers many more applications and subtleties. I’ll just offer a few examples of Show vs. tell.
If the reader has to fill in too many details, you’re telling. If you’re not providing input into one or more of the six (yes, six) senses, you’re telling. If you’re spoon feeding the reader a conclusion (oldest children are often bossy) rather than allowing the reader to draw that conclusion by illustrating with an example (me telling my sister she wasn’t allowed to be Mister Nobody in our pretend family), you’re telling, as well.
How do you move from telling to showing? Whether you’re writing a how-to book with anecdotes, a memoir or fiction, you can use this checklist below to get started.
Ready to dive into the details?
If you’d like more tools for polishing your writing and making it compelling, join me for Writing Magic Saturday, January 7 at 10:30 am at All That Matters Yoga and Conference Center in Wakefield, RI. We’ll learn the rules and put them into action. When you compare your writing from the beginning of class to the end, you’ll be amazed at the leap in style and impact!